Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Blue Valentine: A BLOW OFF film review

We've been anticipating the release of Blue Valentine for some time now on the BLOW OFF. I mean, how could you really go wrong with a movie that stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams? So, last week I finally took myself out on a date to see it. I was told by a friend that it wasn't the kind of film I'd want to go see with the F word and since he hated Revolutionary Road, I figured he wouldn't really be into the 21st century take on a failing relationship.

I'm glad I went alone (thanks KS). In fact, it took me about an hour to even want to talk to the poor guy after I got home.

There's no doubt that this movie is totally depressing. It's basically an hour and forty minute BLOW OFF. But I've always been fascinated by tragedy and break ups (hence starting this blog), so that didn't really bother me. Plus, we often complain about how "love" isn't like it is in the movies, so shouldn't we celebrate a movie where love is exactly what it's like in real life? The answer is yes.

The film was famously given an NC-17 rating by the MPAA that Harvey Weinstein successfully appealed, but as I was watching it, I was kind of glad my under seventeen year old self was never exposed to this kind of story. Not because of the sex scenes, but because of its bleak take on young love....something the romantically hopeful teenager could be seriously traumatized by.

It opens on a dark day in the life of the marriage between Cindy and Dean who decide to spend the night at a hotel together to reignite their spark. Well, Dean decides that. Cindy looks like she'd rather gas herself then spend a night alone with her husband. A run in at a liquor store with Cindy's ex sets the tense tone for their "romantic" night away--- an exchange that's so awkward and realistic you instantly forget you're watching two well known celebs. As the movie unfolds we discover why Cindy's old BF is such a loaded subject and how much weight and resentment that conversation actually carried.

Around this time, the film starts flashing back to when Cindy and Dean first met. They're a little skinnier, with better hair, and a sparkle in their eyes. And Dean especially is a romantic. He talks about how men keep looking and looking 'til they find the right person to marry, while women tend to end up with just the guy who's got a good job and wants to marry them. Despite the gritty nature of the movie, Cindy and Dean still have a very "hollywood" kind of run in where we know they're both inherently good people, because of the way they treat the elderly.

My biggest critique of this movie is that they didn't cast Gram from Dawson's Creek to play Michelle Williams's grandmother. That would have been a marketing coup. Reunited for the first time since the WB, Jen and Gram!

But I digress, Cindy and Dean's first few weeks of falling in love are full of hope and promise, despite having to deal with some heavy shit. Dean, in his own way, is Cindy's knight in shining armor. But then five years later, he's a long ways away from the guy who got the cover of The Giving Tree tattooed on his arm. I honestly don't know how they made Ryan Gosling look so bad. It might sound shallow--- but there is a takeaway here. Don't let yourself go, people. If you get fat or ugly, the chances of your marriage failing are a lot higher. While there are a couple sweet moments in the hotel room, the night quickly dissolves after a little too much drinking is followed by an aggressive and emotionally charged sex scene.

It's hard to watch the beginning of Cindy and Dean's relationship juxtaposed with its demise. And in the end, the movie doesn't really give you a bad guy or a good guy. You sympathize with Dean once you get more insight on how the relationship began, but you also sympathize (and relate to) Cindy's panic as she comes to terms with the fact that she's done with her marriage. In some ways, the movie could have had an even bigger impact if the problems the characters faced down the road weren't quite so inevitable.

Overall, I loved this movie. The performances are heartrendingly good. The story is in its own sad way universal. And even though the last scene goes a little too far at trying to pull at our heart strings (when we're already near suicidal) I for one can't wait to see what Derek Cianfrance (writer/director) does next.


  1. Oooooo so glad you wrote about this! I concur, very good film! Saw it with the BF, which was either a great idea or a huge mistake...not sure yet.

    I did have one problem with the movie though--I wish they made Michelle Williams a bit more sympathetic and not so uncommunicative with her husband after only five years. Come on, that's not that long to go from A to Z in a relationship, or I didn't buy it anyway. I blamed her through most of the movie for their problems because they didn't make clear how bad her hubby's drinking problem really was until much later. She was so icey that you assume he drinks because she drives him to. She was too passive or passive aggressive the entire time--almost sleep walking thru her life. (At least he's charming and you see why she falls for him for all the kindness he shows her.)

    In fact, she doesn't communicate with him at all until she's forced to communicate INSIDE the doctor's office where she works...again, her own fault for making him follow her in there rather than communicate with him in the hotel or in the parking lot.

    Women who just let things happen to them are not my kind of ladies. I think she did have her reasons (a verbally abusive dad) but she or the movie failed to show us any reason why Ryan fell in love with her or why the ex wanted her so much, besides she's pretty and good in bed. (Is it because a man wrote/directed this? I'd rather just blame him!) I prefer the Meryl's and Annette Bening's of the world because I know even if they played passive, they'd show you WHY they're passive and they'd make it more interesting and more sympathetic to watch.

    Ryan was spot on, as usual, but Michelle is just a mousey hipster too often in films. Her Brokeback Mountain character and this character are one in the same to me.

    That's just my two cents anyway. And amazingly, the BF agreed with me. I actually think going to see it together made us feel oddly better about our relationship. I think we felt, glad that's not us--at least not yet anyway! :)


    I agree that they needed to better flesh out Michelle's character, so it doesn't just feel like the same old male/female issues (she has to take care of everything, he's a kid, etc) But, since the bulk of the movie is one day in the life (besides the flashbacks) I viewed it as a slice of life, that they've actually had this fight a thousand times and what we're watching is literally the breaking point. I can also understand that if you are in a relationship with a man who drinks at 8am and isn't realizing his potential, it would take a toll after a few years. I totally agree they should have given her more depth, but I don't think she was just a pretty face. They established that she was smart, driven, wanted to be a doctor, was a person who's family (grandma anyway) meant a lot to her and that she was also someone that ultimately couldn't go through with terminating a pregnancy--- I think these are all really defining characteristics beyond being physically attractive. It's not much less than what we know about Ryan's character.

    And what about his accountability for going into her place of work and flipping out and punching someone? Why is that her fault? Because she didn't dump him in the hotel room when he was clearly intoxicated and basically sexually assaulted her?

    All in all, I agree that there's no way for her to be as sympathetic as him since he married her and raised a child that wasn't his--- that's like the last thing most men would do and it sets him up as very heroic. And that ultimately he wanted to make the relationship work and she was done.

    Also, I love Meryl too, but she had a few roles in her younger days that were victimy and not all that fleshed out (the deer hunter). I love that we have some exciting actresses in our generation that will hopefully be at that caliber once we're in our 50s/60s.

  3. one last thought, my brother in law saw the movie too and his take on it was that Michelle Williams' character was never in love with Ryan Gosling. He was just the right guy at the right time. I thought that was an interesting angle on it.

  4. I can see how she was depicted as a smart character and loving towards her family, and that's all works. But the movie wants us to see both hers and his sides to why they are breaking up and, to me, they depicted her as much too uncommunicative and passive/aggressive (that's the main problem) and he's blind sided when she finally dumps him. She could have shown us more loving, funny and giving characteristics like he showed us.

    If they just made clear that she triiiied to get him to change up until that day, I think I'd be more sympathetic to her. To say we're supposed to assume that or it's inherent in this slice of life story doesn't suffice. The movie should have showed us she tried more (a flash back or some verbal references) because they are trying to get us to sympathize and take the journey with the characters.

    Anyways, maybe i just don't like that actress, but I am positive they could have done a lot more with that character. And in the scenario that she never loved him to begin with (and she just needed a hand to hold while she had the baby) then she's even less sympathetic.

    I can see how Natalie Portman would have rocked this role and shown us more sides. I'm all for our generation of ladies on the screen and giving credit where credit is due. I agree there are some exciting new actresses in our gen. I'd sadly disagree, however, that Michelle is one of them.

  5. Eh, I don't agree Natalie would have been better in this role as writ--- minus her amazing performance in Black Swan--- did you see Brothers? She was pretty mediocre in that and it's got a semi-similar blue collar tone.
    and the previews for No Strings Attached are a little frightening.

    I guess I just heart Michelle b/c of Dawson's. and there were moments in the movie that I could relate to her character. i also thought the movie did show what a huge struggle it was for her to come to the conclusion that she did and it wasn't a decision she took lightly. For me, the movie wasn't so cut and dry. at the end of the day they both fucked things up.

    overall, i agree that if it wasn't slanted one way--- it was told more from a male POV.

  6. Alright, I just watched the film (an impromptu solo date!), and it has put me in a somber, pensive mood. This was a great film--a bit too hyper-stylized for me (the shots, music, etc), but the performances were both off the charts. All in all, it was an incredibly realistic portrayal of young love/ marrying too young/ marrying out of circumstance, etc.

    Let's just take the film for what it was: a romantic drama told from a male POV. Cindy was basically the town slut, according to this film. Don't you think it was strage that she never had a friend throughout the entire film (while Dean has his mover friends to confide in)? The film doesn't ever give her a chance to let her tell her story. Given that, Michelle (as an actress) did an awesome job of portraying a trapped character trying to make it work--until it's just too late. Quite frankly, the fact that she made it through to five years is proof enough that she hung in there.

    Cause Jake's right: Dean was her knight. She was in love, I believe that, but they were both so young. She was pregnant, wanted out of the house, and Dean was... there. Dashing. Blue-eyed. Charming.

    At its core, this is a story of Hot Young Love. In youth, we all had the time, energy, and naivete to fall in love instantly. We all did some crazy shit for love when we were young, didn't we? Dean was ready to take on a baby that wasn't his, without question. To call him a "sweetheart" isn't enough. But really, he was just young, and IN LOVE.

    In a way, this reminded me of my last relationship: how quickly we got involved and the intensity of it all--down to the way it all ended. This is what I admire most about this film: it captures perfectly how love in youth drives us to feel in ways we can not even comprehend as adults. We belittle it now. But this film celebrates it, while acknowledging its fatalities. I see that there is such integrity in young love--I respect it more now, after watching this film.

    Ultimately, BLUE VALENTINE made me miss the intensity of Hot Young Love so much. God, it's so precious and wonderful! But it also reminded me that I'll never do that again. As an adult, it's just incomprehensible. And that makes me wiser, but it also makes me really sad.