(2010) director Derek Cianfrance
viewed: 01/14/11 at the UA Stonestown Twin, SF, CA
While it’s certainly true that not all love stories have happy endings, and perhaps that even most do not, most films about love stories tend to dwell on the manic joys more than on the dissolution of love. Blue Valentine tries to measure the whole arc of the story of love, casting glances toward the significance and story of life as well. The lovers are Michelle Phillips and Ryan Gosling, who helped produce this film, an indie flick that gives focus to the good and the bad and which does not end in happiness.
The film begins when the family dog has run off, perhaps an omen or a metaphor for what will happen to the family, to the couple, who has a small child. The film’s present is about five years into their marriage. Gosling’s hairline has taken a beating and Williams just seems completely fed up. But the full breadth of the story evolves through flashbacks, to their meeting, their getting together, and ultimately marrying and having a child together.
The film is very naturalistic, but also features a lot of tight close-ups on Williams and Gosling’s faces, adding to the claustraphobia that Williams’ character is suffering in her life. Being non-linear, unfolding in pieces, while the story moves to its inevitable break-up and dissolution, it’s not a simple film to piece through.
But the real strengths are its stars. Williams is beautiful and has the rough role of being the one who falls out of love, can seem bitchy about her unaspiring husband, but she is very good, wending her way through the characters several years. Gosling is excellent as the sincere, sweet, working class guy who never knew what he wanted until he had his wife and child. And really, they make the film.
The film does have many moments that feel real and can be very striking. The scene in which Gosling serenades Williams while she dances in front of a store, strumming his ukulele, singing “You Always Hurt the One You Love” is very sweet and striking. It was used in its straight-through, uncut self as the trailer for the film, which certainly struck me when I saw it. Seeing it again in the film, it’s poignant, because they are already very unhappy, we know their future, but here they are in the light flirtations of early romance, utterly charming.
For me, the film worked, and worked well. Not only can I easily imagine that it’s not going to be for everybody, but I can even imagine that some people who may even be open to this sad, slow, unhappy story may find potential fault with it. But, like I said, I fall on the side of finding it very moving, fresh, and at times, vivid.