It took Derek Cianfrance twelve years to get his second feature film made. Blue Valentine is a heart-wrenching story about a youthful couple falling in and out of love.
Where Does Love Go? Some Spoilers Ahead
Cindy and Dean are your average young couple. They live out in the Pennsylvania suburbs and have a young daughter. But a few rough days in their marriage leads many dormant feelings to the surface of their lives – ultimately resulting in a terrible fight. The film begins with the death of the family dog, who gets hit by a car. Accusations by Dean fly toward Cindy when they are watching their daughter’s recital. “How many times did I tell you to lock the f–king gate?” He tells her.
When the couple first meet six years previously, Cindy has a violent, sexually aggressive jock boyfriend. Cindy is turned on by Dean, whom she meets at an old-age home where she is caring for an elderly relative. He is sensitive, funny, and charming and relentlessly pursues her. They are friends first, but the romance quickly follows when Cindy reveals to Dean that she is pregnant. Is it his or her jock boyfriend? That is left up to the audience to decide.
The film juxtaposes these two time periods in a subtle non linear way. I was watching the two actors and Cianfrance discuss the film on the Charlie Rose show and a question that the film raises is “Where does love go?”
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Give Riveting Performances
To save the marriage and bring some romance back into their fledgling union. Dean convinces Cindy to spend a night at a local motel in the “Future Room.” Its a heavy-handed metaphor for the crossroads of their relationship, but it works. Some of those scenes are hard to watch as the viewer can sense that Cindy has checked out of the relationship. She gives her body to Dean even though he argues with her for being distant. Dean is trying so hard to save his marriage. What caused their union to go south? Perhaps it was a combination of Cindy’s ambition to be a nurse and Dean’s complacency toward his own career. He seems fine with just being a painter and a stay-at home dad. He also drinks and smokes too much, is a bit immature, but he still cracks funny jokes and makes Cindy laugh. It all climaxes in a hard-to watch fight when Dean confronts his wife at her job for leaving him at the motel to go back to work.
Blue Valentine is one of the more realistic portraits of a relationship coming apart. Cianfrance takes influence from John Cassavettes, the godfather of independent cinema. (Check out his wife Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence.) Blue Valentine doesn’t dance around the issues at hand. The film’s power comes from the performances of the two leads and Cianfrance’s ability to guide those performances with a fly-on-the wall approach and subtle, unflashy camera work. He had Gosling and Williams live in the house where they shot the film for a month. It will have you evaluating your own relationships long after leaving the theater.