Netflix Movie Month: "Blue Valentine" Review

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Michelle Williams & Ryan Gosling are paired in this 2010 drama film about a failed marriage. Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) are first shown at their modest Pennsylvania home about six years into their marriage. He's a house painter, she's a nurse, they have a daughter who's about five, and the marriage is unraveling. Then Dean and Cindy are shown as they were back when they met, went through a courtship and got into a sexual relationship. From here it's left to the viewer to guess how things must have gradually gone wrong.
3.5

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Rating: NC-17
Length: 112 minutes
Release Date: December 27, 2010
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
Genre: Drama / Romance

"Blue Valentine” provides insight into a troubled marriage as it toggles between past and present events in an attempt to determine where the relationship went wrong. The film features Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy. Because "Blue Valentine” contains graphic sexual scenes, violence and profanity, it is not appropriate for younger viewers.

"Blue Valentine” chronicles the relationship of Dean and Cindy, a couple married for six years with one daughter, Frankie. The film shifts between past and present day. The past portrays Dean and Cindy six years ago. They are a couple newly and madly in love, whose lives are wrapped around each other. In stark contrast, the present day depicts a couple who have lost certainty of who they are and where they are going, both as individuals and as a pair.

The film begins in the present day, which shows Cindy working as a nurse and Dean working as a house painter. The film portrays this couple simply plodding along through life, rarely smiling and lacking meaningful conversation. They are trudging through another day that involves attempting to find a lost dog, arguing about breakfast, navigating school schedules and getting to work.

Having seen this exhausted present-day version of Dean and Cindy, the viewer is suddenly introduced to a different version of the couple: happy, carefree and obviously in love. In this past version of the couple, Cindy is a successful college student and Dean is a high school dropout who works for a moving company. The viewer sees them meet by chance at an assisted-living center where Cindy visits her grandmother. Cindy has high academic goals. She wants to finish college and attend medical school. In contrast, Dean aspires to discover an old-fashioned version of forever love.

Cindy initially finds Dean's romanticism and charm both attractive and enticing, and she likes that he wants to do anything to make her happy. However, six years later she finds these same qualities unbearable. Cindy feels that Dean has grown complacent, and she wants him to find some motivation and initiative. These feelings toward Dean's life spill into their relationship, as well. Dean feels that their relationship is fine and that it is as good as it has always been. Just like in the rest of his life, Dean has little motivation to find out if it gets any better. Simply spending time with Cindy and Frankie is enough for him. Goal-oriented Cindy wants the relationship to grow and become better over time. She is not happy with Dean loving her in the same way he always has. She wants the marriage to change and evolve. It becomes increasingly clear throughout the film that this couple lacks the love and romance that they once had.

As a result of their relationship difficulties, Dean arranges a night out at a hotel for just the two of them in an attempt to rekindle their romance and save their marriage. Cindy is unimpressed, so when she gets called into work early the next morning, she is eager to leave. She writes a note for Dean and exits quietly. Dean is angry that she left. He goes to her place of employment and makes a scene. The viewer sees that Dean's feeble attempt at saving their marriage has gone horribly wrong.

The question of exactly what went wrong is never answered in this film, but it leaves the viewer asking whether it is ever truly possible to answer that question. Viewers of  "Blue Valentine” see clearly that in some cases the answer is no. While this realization is sad, the film is a realistic view into a troubled marriage. The viewer sees all the grinding, wearing stressors that change people slowly over time: everyday life, raising a child, maintaining a household, keeping a job and growing up. These things also sometimes change the tone of a relationship so much that it is unable to be saved.

The attention to detail in this film is remarkable, especially with regard to conveying emotion to viewers. The viewer feels the tension and heartbreak that comes from two people knowing that their relationship has changed significantly and is potentially at its end. The film deals directly with many deep and dark emotions. In a sense, it is compelling to watch those emotions unfold, but it is also very depressing. "Blue Valentine” is not the movie for a viewer who is looking for a warm, fuzzy, happily-ever-after feeling at the end. Instead, at the end of this film the viewer is left feeling heartbreak and disappointment at the demise of a once-happy marriage and the stark realization that happiness does not always last forever.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5