Let me just go right out and say it, Blue Valentine is one of the best movies of the year. It is a major accomplishment for the actors (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) and the director (Derek Cianfrance).
The movie introduces us to a married couple( Gosling and Williams) with a young daughter as they start another day. Just the everyday minutiae of waking up and getting ready for your day. Bit by bit the movie exposes how unhappy they are and intersects between their current status and how they met and fell in love years ago. Think of it as the anti-rom-com, the movie that answers the question that most movies shy away from: what happens to the couple after they get together? It also answers the other question that is asked when two people are clearly unhappy in their relationship: why did they ever get together?
And boy does it answer those questions. Every line and detail builds that story. There is no one explosive or particularly memorable scene, but full crescendos building. One building up to falling in love, the other building away to falling out of love. And they come together in the two fantastic lead performances.
I was not sure about Gosling at first. But his performance is very smart. With very little back story, he makes you understand Dean. The young hopeful romantic he was, and the lazy husband and father he became. His physical transformation is phenomenal, but his emotional nakedness even more so.
Williams' Cindy has a lot of back story. It is refreshing to see the female protagonist get a fully fleshed out character and she does wonders with it. She has a fantastic scene on the Brooklyn Bridge where she can’t quite bring herself to tell Gosling something about their relationship. You can see and feel the fear and anticipation weighing so heavily on her. But that is just one scene. She is good in every moment on screen. I understood the young ambitious school girl, the wise daughter, and mostly the woman aching to change her life. Hers is the more unsympathetic character, but I was totally on her side because of the performance.
I’ve heard a lot about Blue Valentine being dark and depressing. I think it tells an all too human story and tells it well with open and emotional performances.