dir. Derek Cianfrance
Google’s search results for Valentine’s Day movies will most likely include much-cherished romantic comedies, some Richard Curtis, and a string of Nicholas Sparks adaptations. Among those is The Notebook (2004), which catapulted the Canadian darlings Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling to stardom, as well as to a highly staged Best Kiss at the MTV Movie Awards. Though it might have topped some Valentine’s Day movie lists, I’m singling this out to introduce a better love story starring Gosling. After having added a couple of critically successful indies like Half Nelson (2006) to his resume in the intervening years, Gosling returned with Blue Valentine (2010), Derek Cianfrance’s sophomore feature.
This time, he partners up with Michelle Williams, and their portrayal of a gradually disintegrating relationship as Dean and Cindy feels exhaustingly real. Like Gosling’s previous affair with Adams spanning decades, this falling-out-of-love story also traverses different time frames, but Cianfrance’s more purposeful plotting does more than merely allow the characters a nostalgic revisit to the bittersweet old days or clue viewers in on some long-buried secrets. In Blue Valentine, it all starts with the death of the couple’s pet, which is but one of the many potential triggers. The opening scene presents a deceptively peaceful morning in a loving home, but as the dog’s death leads to an impulsive getaway to a love motel, we notice those familiar, seemingly insignificant signs of a relationship in trouble – misinterpreted words, alcoholism, or fading passion. The more they dwell on their miserable now, their beginnings filled with laughs, tears, and promises seem increasingly distant. Cianfrance repeats the calculated juxtaposition of past and present, building towards the film’s emotional peak, where the pair’s tearful wedding vows segue into the dusk-toned image of them parting ways. This marriage between the film’s formal gambit and its delicate, convincing depiction of a waning love sets Blue Valentine apart from other romantic dramas. Admittedly it’s a downer, but witnessing Gosling and Williams redefine authentic acting alone is worth it.