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Blue Valentine (2010)

January 3, 2011

9/10 Future Rooms

Further proof that Ryan Gosling is the greatest Canadian export since poutine.

Blue Valentine is about an uneducated, blue-collar twenty-something who comes down with a mean case of love at first sight when he locks eyes with a twenty-something college girl and steals her heart like it’s no big thing. Long story short, they fall head-over-heels for each other, they get married, they become parents, they settle down, and as their lives become routine, the passion that kicked off their relationship slowly dwindles to the breaking point.

Yeah, it’s as much a total bummer as it is one of the most happy-go-lucky love stories I’ve seen in ages, and even though writer/director Derek Cianfrance ain’t exactly seeing things from a glass-half-full perspective, he nails what he brings to the table.

It’s Cianfrance’s first real mainstream effort (if you can even call this mainstream) and I can’t effing wait to see what he’s gonna churn out next. Apparently this movie took a good 12 years to get made and the script went through some 60-odd rewrites, and more power to him for stickin’ through it because rarely do I ever get the chance to see a movie as genuine as this. Granted, having Gosling and Williams is half the battle right out the gate, but one of the sure signs of a truly phenomenal script is when it doesn’t even seem like the script is there.

Listening to these characters flirt with one another, argue with one another, fall in and out of love with another like the camera’s not even there, like this is a documentary of their own lives as it unfolds from the best of times into the worst of times, it’s lightning in a bottle that you’d be hard-pressed to catch twice. And more than anything else, I think that’s what I loved about this movie. It’s just so vulnerable and honest and complicated and Cianfrance does a stellar job of taking a burnt-out boy-meets-girl story and making it feel new.

His direction is straightforward, letting the cast and his script do the talking (good call), but it’s the way Cianfrance structures the plot that adds so much to the relationship at the forefront. The story starts out with our couple years after they’ve been married, going through the motions in what you could easily call a “settled” life. Gosling’s got a mean receding hairline, he dresses like Larry the Cable Guy, his career aspirations have peaked at painting houses and his daily schedule consists of downing beers like they’re going out of style. Williams, on the other hand, is climbing up the corporate ladder as a nurse, pretty much single-handedly supporting her family and looks mentally, physically, and emotionally drained from sunup to sundown. Mirror all that with flashbacks of their glory days when they first met, two kids full of life with more love for each other than they know what to do with, and you’ve got yourself quite the recipe for heartbreak.

Like I said, it’s a bummer.

Then again, that scene in the trailer where Gosling is playing the ukulele while Williams tap-dances along may be the best damn scene of the year. Even better than the rotating hallway number from Inception, and that was effing awesome.

Anywho, watch out for Cianfrance, those dozens upon dozens of rewrites sure paid off and he’s got himself a screenwriter’s wet dream. Also pretty sure that he’s Ryan Gosling’s doppelganger.

But let’s just get to the cast already because if either or both of these kooky kids don’t win Oscars, I swear I’ll turn that damn TV off this year. I don’t care what the fuck James Franco and Anne Hathaway have to say!

So, Ryan Gosling: my number one man-crush, the best thing that ever came out of The Mickey Mouse Club, one of the greatest and most under-appreciated actors out there today by a long shot. If you haven’t seen Half Nelson yet, do so and I guarantee you’ll be on the bandwagon. Here he’s playing our guy Dean, and I fear for the day that anyone like him ever tries to sweep my fiancee out under my feet because this guy has game like no other. The dude has self-confidence down to a science, you like him from the second you meet him and all you want is to learn and see more. The thing Gosling’s always done best is act natural, like he’s not playing a character but just being his plain old unbecoming, awesome self, and that’s a big reason why he’s such a strong lead as Dean. He had me howling with laughter, he had me buying every high and low, it was like he was Dean, and that’s a hard thing to do.

If this review wasn’t so long as is, I’d keep going on this Gosling rant, but you get the idea. It probably won’t happen, but make no mistake, Gosling deserves Best Actor more than anyone else on any ballot out there.

And hats off to Michelle Williams for giving this her all as our girl Cindy. She was great in Brokeback but it wasn’t until now that I’ve been truly impressed. Cindy’s got one rough character arc from wild child to breadwinner and Williams is clearly digging deep to make it seem legit. Needless to say, she pulls it off like the pro that she is. While I’d be surprised if this wasn’t Natalie Portman’s year, Williams sure has come a long way since her days on Dawson’s and this is yet another big step in the right direction towards cementing her place in Hollywood as one of the heavyweights.

The only issue I’ve got with the movie is that it’s hard to take Cindy’s side against Dean when the shit starts to hit the fan. The primary reason is because of the way he man’s up at the start of their time together and builds a life with her under circumstances that would make most men run for the hills, and after that point, as bad as he may fuck up as a drunken, jealous husband, it’s hard not to sympathize for the guy and think, “I don’t blame him.” Not to say that it villainizes Cindy in any way, but it definitely does make him out to be more of the victim. Not sure if it was intended to be that way, but I think I could have gone for a more level playing field. But who knows, the ladies in the audience might beg to differ.

Blue Valentine might not be the biggest “Go Marriage!” endorsement out there, but it’s genuinely affecting, it’s as bittersweet as they come, it’s beautifully ugly and it’s the most human movie I’ve seen all year along with being one of the flat-out best. It didn’t quite get me to the point of tears, but it runs the emotional gamut like gangbusters without being anything close to melodramatic, and I simply couldn’t have asked for a better swan song to 2010. Great little soundtrack by Grizzly Bear, too. If by some grace of God this happens to be playing by you, see it before it’s gone.

No idea why this got pegged with an NC-17 rating for a while, though. Not exactly tame by any means, but it’s not like there’s full on penetraeshe or anything. You’re an adult, you can handle it.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. January 3, 2011 7:15 am

    I cannot wait to see this when it comes around my area! Gosling is one of my all-time favorite male actors, and he has got so much going for him right now, and it seems like this film is going to be one of them come Oscar season. Probably another Half Nelson nomination, but sadly no win.

    • January 3, 2011 12:52 pm

      Definitely seek it out if you can. And, sadly, I agree about this being another Half Nelson for Gosling. Dude totally deserves it, but I think this might be Firth’s year.

  2. January 3, 2011 11:57 am

    Oh man, you only made me want to see this even more!!! I was hoping I could wait for the DVD but now heck, I will drive down to the indie theater when it gets here…

  3. fred reade permalink
    January 3, 2011 12:42 pm

    I don’t agree. BV was a big bore for me. And I love these kinds of movies, if they are done well. Everyone Else is a better version of this type of story. The Passion of Anna or Hour of the Wolf. Of course i don’t expect Cianfrance to be another Bergman, but this film is all style and no substance. The backstories are inexcusably cliched (hers) or thin (his). The dialog is empty. Very little is revealed. I guess filmmakers find it exciting and fresh when actors improv on set, but that doesn’t mean it resonates for the audience. Gosling’s character is basically a dud who is content with his life and not willing to do anything to keep his wife despite her pleas that he not be such a boring loser. Everyone blames her for their demise, but i see it as his fault for not holding up his end.

    Either way, the film simply didn’t engage my interest, and i’m the target audience: A writer who loves realistic relationship films.

  4. January 3, 2011 1:19 pm

    Pumped to see this get a 9/10 from you, as I thought it was a remarkable film (and also that we both have man-crushes on Gosling).

    This movie was extremely difficult for me to watch, and I’m not the sqeamish type. Haven’t felt this gut-wrenchingly affected by a film since Requiem for a Dream.

    PS – Post yer Best of 2010 list already.

    • January 3, 2011 1:24 pm

      hahahaha. I’ll do it as soon as I see The Kids Are All Right and Somewhere this week.

      but really glad you liked this movie, too (and the whole Gosling man-crush). it is a tough movie to watch, the one scene in particular was the way it segued from Gosling serenading her with the ukelele to them eating take out in silence in the Future Room. that was a blow. along with the whole sex scene where Williams is clenching her teeth like she’s getting a spinal tap.

      great stuff, but man was that painful.

  5. Aimée V. permalink
    January 4, 2011 11:19 am

    MMMM… poutine. Spoken like a true Montrealer, eh?
    Glad to read in that last comment that you’re going to watch The Kids Are All Right (I really liked it) and Somewhere (looking forward to see it, but I don’t think it opened here yet). Happy New Year! Lots of 9s and 10s, I wish you!

    • January 4, 2011 12:09 pm

      Hahaha. Can’t believe you’re the only person so far who’s made a poutine comment. The mere mention of that stuff makes my mouth water like no other.

      Plan on watching The Kids Are All Right tomorrow, should have the review up by Friday, and hopefully seeing Somewhere and Inside Job this weekend so I can have my Top Ten of 2010 post up by Sunday. Here’s to hoping that things go according to plan!

      And Happy New Year to you, too!

  6. January 4, 2011 4:44 pm

    Happy New Year Aiden! Really looking forward to seeing this one. Ryan Gosling is talented as hell.

  7. Lord Farquaad permalink
    January 6, 2011 4:09 am



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