This story begins with an ending – it is a story of the end of a relationship. Blue Valentine (2010) shows the desperate attempts of two people who were once very much in love, who are now trying to save what’s left of their marriage, and failing.
Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) are a young, working-class couple with a little daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). Cindy is a nurse who dreams of becoming a doctor, while Dean moves furniture, and has never dreamed of doing anything else at all. They find the fact that they both come from unhappy childhoods to be their common ground at the start, but the mismatch in their plans and ambitions becomes a problem shortly after their wedding. Dean has never planned to be a husband and a father, but he is happy to be one, and he is a very good parent to Frankie. He wants nothing more than he already has.
Cindy, however, would like to see him use his skills and get involved in something more than obsessing about his wife. She’s feeling trapped and embattled by her jealous, hopeless partner, who is barely a partner any longer. They have nothing to talk about, nothing to share. She feels no physical attraction, he feels rejected. It can’t get any worse.
Yet their relationship did begin so beautifully – it was a real love at first site, as we can see through the numerous flashbacks and retrospectives. Dean met Cindy when she was visiting her grandmother in an old people’s home. The flashbacks show us some romantic scenes, of two people getting to know each other and being completely charmed. Dean proposes to Cindy in a selfless act of love and devotion, knowing that she’s carrying someone else’s child.
How could it have gone so wrong then? First impressions are misleading, it seems. Or maybe two unhappy people desperately needed someone to love. Or maybe…maybe there is no clear answer. Blue Valentine doesn’t give an easy response to a difficult question. It is more a study of a feeling that was once present and is now inevitably fading.
Williams and Gosling’s acting is detailed and focused – the director, Derek Cianfrance, puts them in the spotlight, requires viewers to spend the whole two hours observing their every emotion. Close-ups and steady scenes intensify the way we experience their brilliant acting, which is, however, difficult to watch. The problem that is being tackled is difficult and the characters are not necessarily likeable (which makes them seem to be even more real). It is not a first-date movie, and not a purely enjoyable one either, however it is clever and moving, and can be put in the same canon as other films on a similar subject, such as Revolutionary Road (2008).