Blue Valentine (2010)
Written by Derek Cianfrance & Joey Curtis, and Cami Delavigne
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
The beginning and the ending, happiness becomes misery. Dean and Cynthia have been married for six years, and something has just gone wrong. The love has been sapped out of their lives, but only one of them seems aware of what has happened, and the other is oblivious. Years earlier, Dean and Cynthia meet through chance, and he pursues her while she is shaking off a bad relationship. They find something in each other that they both need, a playful joy about life. In the present day, Dean is trying to keep something alive that is dead. This is a story that closes with a happy beginning and a heartbreaking ending.
Blue Valentine is a film that will tear your heart out, a brutally realistic made even more painful because of the non-linear structure of the story. The narrative ping-pongs back and forth between the current mess Dean and Cynthia find themselves in and the early days of their love affair. You can see the cracks while the veil of youth keeps the lovers oblivious. Dean smokes and drinks and doesn’t aspire to anything great. By the time Cynthia is making her way as a nurse and thinking about a big move, his previous bohemian ideas don’t gel with her. Their daughter Frankie is stuck in the middle, too young to understand how her upbringing is another point of contention between her parents.
The chemistry between Ryan Gosling (Dean) and Michelle Williams (Cynthia) is the crux of the film pulling off this story so well. The early years showcase them being playful and their love feeling bright, yet not necessarily hopeful. They make each other happy in moments they spend away from the world. However, we can see Dean’s sensitivity as a trait that charms Cynthia but that has become unbearable in the present. He bristles at the slightest hint that she’s spoken with another man, suspicious that she’ll leave him, aware of his inadequacies. But we know this was a tenet of their earlier relationship when Dean remarks that no man is good enough for Cynthia, so he’ll take the position until she gets tired of him. It’s a cute remark that resonates in a different tone later.
The smartest decision director Derek Cianfrance made was to refrain from making one member of the relationship a villain. We see multiple instances of both people making stupid mistakes and having unconstructive reactions. Cynthia is secretive and doesn’t want to see Dean’s point of view on issues of parenting and employment. Dean, on the other hand, sulks at the slightest insult and wants to preserve their relationship in the formaldehyde of the past. It would have made them feel easier to get through, smoother to leave behind if Dean just hit her or Cynthia cursed him out in a tirade. But that isn’t the way this story or many others end. The relationship died sometime between the events we see in the film, and we’re here to see Cynthia come to that realization.
Taking a step back, Blue Valentine is such a simple story. People fall in and out of love. The magic is in the performances which weren’t rehearsed beforehand. Cianfrance had Gosling and Williams do a lot of character work and then allowed many scenes to have moments of improvisation, using the first take with all the flaws present. This works so brilliantly when the couple is in their early days, and we see these beautiful moments of their love blossoming. Reflexively, the rawness present in the twilight of Dean and Cynthia’s union cuts to the core. The rails are falling out from underneath them and the volatile efforts Dean goes to trying to grasp onto what they had and Cynthia’s breakdown failing to communicate that she doesn’t want to keep this alive feel way too real. Blue Valentine is not an experience that will have you walking away feeling great, but it is a melancholy meditation on the deceptiveness of love and even supposed true love can wither.