By Ezra Stead
Blue Valentine, USA, 2010
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
2010 was an unusual year for me in that I saw only about a third (or less) of the number of new films I’ve seen in pretty much every year of the decade leading up to it. That said, of the few dozen I did manage to see (and we all know the film year isn’t over until around the time of the Academy Awards – the Super Bowl of movies – so there are more to be seen), Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine is my favorite. I might even venture an objective opinion (is that an oxymoron?) and say that it is absolutely the best film of the year.
I have called this Derek Cianfrance’s film and, while it is true that its greatness is in large part due to his work as director and co-writer (along with Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis), Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams have created performances of such credibility and raw emotional intensity that it is easy to forget the director’s invisible hand. Gosling plays Dean, a high school dropout who now works as a house painter and drinks too much; Williams is Cindy, an on-call nurse who struggles to balance her heavy workload with time spent caring for their daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). One weekend, they leave Frankie with Cindy’s dad and go to a “cheesy sex motel” to get drunk and try to forget the pressures of their lives for a while. What they find when they are alone together, though, is just how far they have gone from the happy, early days of their relationship.
Those happier days are intercut with the present in a brilliant non-linear pastiche that perfectly reveals the details of how their relationship has progressed at just the right moments. As they drunkenly attempt to make resentful love in the motel, the film cuts back to one of their first times in bed together (a tame but completely realistic scene that inexplicably almost caused the film an NC-17 rating). Early on, we see Dean rather sadly playing a ukulele in the present; later, we see the much younger Dean serenading the much younger Cindy with the very same instrument on their first unofficial date. Other details far more crucial, which of course should not be spoiled, are even more carefully revealed, all with perfect timing and restraint.
Gosling and Williams are both simply incredible, making the subtle differences between their younger and older selves consummately believable – we can see the years and all their ups and downs in their faces, we can feel the gradual and almost imperceptible disillusionment that has elapsed between then and now. The screenplay is likewise so perfectly constructed that, while we never know exactly why things have gone so wrong, we never doubt that this is only because they don’t know either. There is a scene toward the end of the film, shortly after the biggest emotional and physical blowup between the two leads, that contains such quiet beauty and such a wonderful metaphor for the couple’s search for what they have lost that I am nearly moved to tears just recalling it.
This is a heart-crushingly sad film, and when I reflect that a large part of that is due to how truly it portrays real life, I only feel sadder. As the cliche says, see it with someone you love, and treasure that while it lasts.
Ezra Stead is the Head Editor for MoviesIDidn’tGet.com. Ezra is also a screenwriter, actor, filmmaker, rapper and poet who has been previously published in print and online, as well as writing, directing and acting in numerous short films and two features. A Minneapolis native, Ezra currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.
For more information, please contact EzraStead@MoviesIDidntGet.com.