Thursday, 5 May 2011

Blue Valentine

Three works of art in a row. This one is a distinctly American indie film showing in Winnipeg for the first time. Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young couple who have fallen out of love. Gosling and Williams here accomplish something rare and special in the acting world: their acting is TOO good. It is so good that they succeeded in making me feel uncomfortable from beginning to end of what is generally a depressing film (sorry, Walter, you will probably want to miss this one).

Blue Valentine is a love story of a sort. But instead of showing the young couple falling in love and getting married and then gradually falling out of love, it begins where their love ends and then takes us back to where it started. This has the effect of making the initial romance rather bittersweet. Because the film bounces back and forth in time in a carefully edited way, we see the many ways these characters have changed over the intervening six or seven years. One of the characters has changed in a largely positive way and is on a path of growth, the other has gone in the opposite direction and has even lost sight of any dream he once had.

Blue Valentine is a profound depiction of one ordinary couple’s life and marriage, with all the stresses that the above-mentioned changes can cause. Cianfrance has managed to create an achingly honest and real film, which is why it is so difficult to watch. As I suggested, even the tender and joyful moments are sad to see when we know the many dark moments ahead.

While I think the camera work is mostly or entirely handheld, this is one of those films where it’s so much a part of the way the story is told that I barely noticed. Blue Valentine probably deserves four stars for the brilliant acting alone but that uncomfortable feeling I had throughout discourages me (I needed something more than that), so I’ll settle for ***+. My mug is up.


  1. Upon further reflection, one could ask why I am punishing Blue Valentine for unsettling me when I give Requiem for a Dream, the ultimate uncomfortable film, an easy four stars. I can only say that if Blue Valentine had left me completely numb for hours and dazed for days, as Requiem did, I would certainly have given it four stars as well. But it did not.

  2. Well, it certainly does hit you like a punch in the stomach. As a couples therapist, I have to admit that it's a little infuriating that the possibility of a counsellor doesn't even come up. Imagine a story about someone dying of cancer and no one even raising the thought of a doctor. But, I shouldn't get started - movies and couples therapists don't get along. Name one movie where a couples counsellor is positively and effectively portrayed. You can't, can you. I'll go with *** for a moving,if depressing, portrayal of two people who simply can't find their way back to love (without a guide or community - see I'm still a little bitter).