by Jef Burnham
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Michelle Wilson (Wendy ad Lucy) and Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson) star in this intimate portrait of two people from disparate, yet equally troubled homes who find themselves in a failing, dysfunctional marriage. Cross-cutting between the genesis of Dean and Cindy’s relationship and the final, turbulent stages of their marriage, writer/director Derek Cianfrance methodically illuminates the elements in their beginnings that necessitate the problems of their present. While this is indeed fascinating, it often feels a bit lacking. After all, as interesting as the character arc from the past to the present is, I found myself far more interested in the intervening years that are omitted from the story— those years during which their marriage must have been somehow seemingly functional.
In this, I find parallels to Mike Nichols’s Closer (2004), in which we only experience the various hook-ups and break-ups of the central characters. The primary difference between the two films is that we actually come to understand and care for Cindy and Dean in the process, making for an exceptionally far more rewarding experience— even if those vital years in between are lost. This is not to say that such seeming functionality in their relationship is not reflected in the film, for the opening certainly depicts the remnants of it. I simply find that the intense emotionality of new romance and failing relationships contain little of the nuanced beauty of a relationship in its prime, which can be infinitely more sad than a failing marriage as we can see the makings of their break-up in their infancy.
Still, for what Cianfrance, Williams, and Gosling accomplish throughout the course of the film, it is an impressively honest and affecting work. Williams was, in fact, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in Blue Valentine and Cianfrance won the Award for Most Promising Filmmaker from the Chicago Film Critics Association, and rightfully so. Williams and Gosling both deliver stellar performances and Cianfrance smartly gives them space to delve deep into these characters’ psyches. The result is always telling and often profoundly moving. And the aging of the actors for the later portions of the marriage is truly impressive work on the part of everyone involved, from hair and make-up to costuming to the actors themselves.
It is certainly worth picking up the Blu-ray of Blue Valentine if you are inclined to purchase it, for the HD transfer beautifully captures the rich, textured cinematography of Andrij Parekh. Special features on this release include commentary with Cianfrance and co-editor Jim Helton, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a charming little home movie reflecting the aforementioned period of their relationship that Cianfrance excluded from the film proper.
Jef Burnham is a writer and educator living in Chicago, Illinois. While waging war on mankind from a glass booth in the parking lot of a grocery store, Jef managed to earn a degree in Film & Video from Columbia College Chicago, and is now the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com.
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