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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, January 7, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 01
Superbly acted (Blue Valentine emotionally neutral
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Superbly acted (Blue Valentine emotionally neutral

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN Contributing Writer

Blue Valentine
Opening January 7


Blue Valentine is one of those movies that I almost don't know how to attack, or even the best way to put my thoughts into any sort of coherent (let alone rational) perspective. The acting on the part of stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling is beyond reproach, as each delivers a performance deserving of all the awards that can be shoveled their way. Co-writer and director Derek Cianfrance stages individual scenes of astonishing power, and the film has more than its share of bracingly visceral emotional moments that left me thunderstruck.

But as a complete motion picture? As a single story from start to finish that had me engaged and eager to see what would happen next? As far as those questions are concerned, I can't say Blue Valentine did a darn thing for me. I sat in the theatre wondering why I should care and, even more importantly, what it was that was keeping me there. It left me cold for large portions of the narrative, and by the time it was over, the story didn't resonate in a way that made its numerous plusses matter in a meaningful way.

In many ways, this saga of a relationship told from both its start and from its finish reminded me of other expertly made downer dramas like Babel or 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. The difference? In the case of those films, there was something about their individual stories that stuck with me, pieces I found myself mulling over after my initial viewing. They were so phenomenally made and crafted that their individual magnificence is indisputable, and while my wish to experience them again isn't high, I wouldn't look at another viewing as an imposition.

The same cannot be said for Cianfrance's film. Not only do I not have an interest in seeing it a second time, I wasn't at all sure I wanted to be there the first time around. Watching its non-linear narrative of two people falling in and out of love made me so uncomfortable, so disillusioned, I could barely find anything about it I cared for. Not only is the movie itself an emotional train wreck, by the time it reached its inevitable conclusion, it left me feeling like one.

Williams and Gosling play Cindy and Dean, a married couple with a young daughter whom both of them love even if their own relationship is hanging by a thread. Dean hasn't lived up to his potential, taking random jobs as he finds them. But he's a good father who adores his little girl, and while he's nowhere near as romantic as he was when he swept Cindy off her feet, his heart still belongs to her.

She's not quite on the same plateau. Cindy is feeling herself drifting from Dean  his increasingly irrational behavior, his penchant for drinking, and his inability to want more from life has her frustrated. What's worse, he's behaving like an emotional child, not realizing he's putting his own physical and sexual needs above her own and forgetting to treat her with the same respect and maturity he did when they were dating.

There's more going on here, and Cianfrance layers the facets of the pair's beginning and their end in a flip-flop fashion that is supposed to give each portion more significance. As things progressed, I quickly came to the conclusion that there wasn't any there there. The whole movie is nothing more than snippets and moments from a pair of lives I became increasingly disinterested in. Their fate held no significance for me, their destination nothing I felt one way or the other about, and while I was consistently dazzled from technical and performance standpoints, just the opposite was happening from a plot perspective.

I suppose Cianfrance is going for something like Mike Nichol's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Ingmar Bergman's Scenes from a Marriage, or John Cassavetes' Faces. My guess is that he wants to make things so realistic, so natural, so innately personal that viewers, whether they've ever been married or not, can't help but relate.

But the things going on in Blue Valentine had no weight for me, and while the characters themselves were certainly realistically depicted, I couldn't help but want for more. Everything about this one just ended up feeling so matter-of-fact, so uninspired, so forgone and unsurprising, that the decisions Cindy and Dean made weren't ones that resonated. Their saga of love and despair made me feel close to nothing. In the end, Cianfrance has crafted an intriguing, superbly acted enigma, the final product of a relationship tragedy devoid of tears, devoid of emotion, and ultimately sadly devoid of giving me any reason to care.

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