Even though the “Blue Valentine” poster claims that the film is “a love story,” it might be better defined as “a story about love’s fleetingness.” Writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s screenplay is more focused on cynicism and how love never lasts, than on romantic idealism and cute love stories.
The story starts with, and is centered on, Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy Peirera (Michelle Williams), several years into their seemingly loveless marriage. The movie fluctuates in time, though, between two parts of the couple’s lives — it shows how the two met and began their unlikely courtship, as well as the final 24-hour period in which their relationship seems to finally dissolve.
Don’t be fooled by the colorful and charming poster and trailer — this is not a romantic comedy or date night movie by any means. The film is deeply emotional and heart wrenching — expect to walk out of the theater much more depressed than when you first walked in.
The film has been nominated for a myriad of awards — both Gosling and Williams were nominated for Best Actor and Actress Golden Globes, respectively, while only Williams was nominated for an Oscar.
The film’s performances were extraordinary. Gosling, known for his breakout role in “The Notebook,” played the uneducated but genuinely kind workingman Dean, while Williams played the increasingly complex and exhausted Cindy.
The density of the story and its characters — and the amount of emotion both of the these aspects can elicit from the viewer — are what set this movie apart.
The film opens with Dean lovingly playing with his young daughter, Frankie, when they discover that the family dog has somehow gotten loose.
Dean handles the situation flawlessly — he simultaneously calms his daughter down while also making her laugh to cheer her up.
The tone of the movie quickly changes, however, when Cindy enters the picture. Dean and Frankie playfully jump on the bed to wake her up, but are immediately greeted with orneriness and yelling.
The scene continues with Cindy making breakfast for Frankie, while Dean smokes and has a morning beer. Frankie doesn’t like her breakfast of oatmeal and raisins, so Dean gets her to eat by playing with the food and making it into a game.
But Dean is met with more exhaustion and general crankiness from Cindy about his immaturity. This scene is a perfect example of what is causing the couple’s marriage to dwindle. Dean just wants more affection and romanticism, while Cindy is simply tired of Dean’s lack of focus and responsibility.
Neither of them is in the right or wrong — I have read reviews that thought Cindy was the cause, and others that thought it was Dean’s fault. But that’s not really the point; the film simply attempts to address two important questions: does love ever really last, and does anyone actually ever find their soul-mate?
The movie isn’t entirely depressing, though. The scenes that jump back in time to the genesis of their relationship contain some of the most tender and heartwarming scenes I have seen in a long while. But since we know that its only a matter of time until their marriage falls apart, it is a little harder to appreciate the endearing love story.
Even so, the chemistry between the lead actors and the emotion they put into the film more than make up for it.
We are introduced to the younger happier versions of the characters early in fragmented flashback sequences. Dean, after recently moving to New York City, gets hired at a moving company.
We are quickly shown his true compassion when he is sent on a simple moving job — to bring a man’s belongings from his former home to his new room in a retirement center. Dean goes above and beyond his call of duty and hangs all of the man’s pictures and paintings, making the room warm and welcoming. When leaving the retirement home, Dean meets Cindy, who is there visiting her grandmother. In a “love at first sight” moment, they lock eyes and Dean is instantly infatuated. He works hard to impress Cindy even though they are worlds apart — Dean is an uneducated blue-collar man while Cindy is a college student on her way to medical school. After a fast and passionate courtship, however, Dean wins her over.
Back in the present, the film revolves around a particularly intense and devastating day in Dean and Cindy’s relationship. In a last ditch effort to restore some passion and love into their seemingly loveless marriage, Dean begs Cindy to go with him to a tacky love motel with themed rooms, where they end up in what looks like a room directly off the set of “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
Cindy ends up revealing a reason for some of her unhappiness: Dean is not living up to his potential by working as a house painter, and she wants to see him do something worthwhile with his life. Dean, on the other hand, is happy just being the best father and husband he can be — working is just a means to that end.
There is no reconciling their opposing points of view. They just see the world in two very different ways. In the end, Cianfrance succeeded in his goal — getting us to think more deeply about our preconceptions of love and what is needed to make it work.
Dean and Cindy were simply just too different and wanted very different things from their lives. Their mutual love and beautiful past were not enough to prevent their relationship from falling apart.
Penney is a member of the class of 2012.