Sean K. Cureton

Recommendation of the Week: Blue Valentine (2010)

In Movies on VOD: Reviews and Recommendations on May 29, 2013 at 5:59 pm

Theatrical Poster

Blue Valentine (2010)
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Netflix Rating: Liked It

Derek Cianfrance’s 2010 Oscar nominated motion picture Blue Valentine is one of those it’s-so-good-and-it-has-Oscar-buzz-so-I-dare-you-not-to-like-it movies. This is not to say, however, that Blue Valentine is an overrated or an over praised film. On the contrary, Cianfrance’s tale of modern love, filled to the brim with erotic narcissism and caustic dialogue, tinged with over tones of impending doom and inevitable despair, is quiet good in terms of cinematography, writing, and the first-rate performances from the film’s two leading actors, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. Blue Valentine is ambitious in terms of its thematic and cinematic scope, but never outgrows the boundaries of its narrative or its audience’s attention. Nevertheless, it feels as though it is a story that can only hope to maintain its audience’s attention for one viewing, keeping it from becoming a timeless classic meant to be returned to for multiple viewings wherein more is revealed about Cianfrance’s artistic intentions. Blue Valentine is a story of love won and lost, and a film seen but probably not pursued beyond an initial viewing.

Regardless of the film’s static scope of artistic ambition, Cianfrance’s film should undoubtedly by seen at least once by anyone interested in masterful cinematic storytelling. The true beauty of the film comes in Cianfrance’s raw and realistic portraiture of love between its two heroes, the stubbornly dashing Dean (Gosling) and the mysteriously seductive Cindy (Williams). The sprawling and impressive intimacy portrayed on the screen through Cianfrance’s subtle script, coupled with the dramatic intensity of Gosling’s and Williams’ performances, follows the relationship between Dean and Cindy over the years, charting each high while simultaneously predicting its climactic dissolution with each close up and terse scrap of dialogue. The viewer is never at ease during the course of the film, never able to enjoy the brief glimpses of love offered in the scenes of the couple’s initial courtship. Due to the established tone from the start of the film, wherein Dean and Cindy seem to be stepping on each other’s toes and testing each other’s patience to the point of outright vindictiveness, divorce is expected, anticipated, and a relief when it finally comes with the film’s final shot.

What’s more, the impact and impression that Blue Valentine leaves embedded deep within the viewer’s psyche after seeing the film is all the more impressive and troubling in that the film does not place blame on either one of its two heroes. Dean may be stubborn and unyielding to Cindy’s appeals for ambition in his own character, and Cindy may at times come off as cold and domineering in the face of her husband’s romantic charm, but neither one of these characters comes off as a villain in Cianfrance’s eyes. Instead, Blue Valentine shifts the blame to the recklessness of love itself, destructive and irrational in all of its deceptive beauty and idealistic promises. Cianfrance doesn’t offer a solution for the couple beyond separation and a forfeiture on the part of his two heroes, suggesting an inherent inadequacy in our own anticipations of love and intimacy, which might be why it is so hard to contemplate viewing the film a second time. Yet, like love, the aesthetic perfection of our own ideals, which mirror those of the heroes in the film, haunt us still, regardless of whether we choose to watch the film again.

Blue Valentine is a stunning achievement, and worthy of all the praise it has already been lauded since it was released in 2010. Gosling and Williams shine in the awful reality of their characters, performed with the highest sense of realism and emotional honesty and vulnerability. Derek Cianfrance is likewise a true auteur, whose future projects should be watched and anticipated with eagerness and awe. Cianfrance has proved his abilities on a small scale with Blue Valentine, promising an even greater impact to be felt from any thematically broader films he may release in the future.

Blue Valentine is available on Netflix Instant View, and is my Movies on Netflix: Recommendation of the Week.

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