Blue Valentine

Movie Review #772: ‘Blue Valentine’ is a gritty romance that strips away the Sparksian qualities of today and replaces them with the hard facts of reality.

★★★½
By Red Stewart
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Drama, Romance
Rated R on appeal (contains mature themes, strong sexual content, profanity, violence)
112 minutes

One thing I’ve noticed about certain genres that go through a strong era of popularity is that, before they die down, they end up flip-flopping on themselves. What I mean is the themes that these films run on are taken apart in later movies to expose their flaws and create a real life account of the depicted story; a process known as deconstruction or, if done for comedic reasons, parody. We saw this happen with westerns, where Clint Eastwood and Kevin Costner created the grim “Unforgiven” and “Dances with Wolves”. The buddy-cop genre itself was opened up with “Cop Out”, “The Other Guys”, and “Kiss Kiss Bang Bang”. Even blaxploitation was parodied in “Goldmember” and “Jackie Brown”.

Though an independent film, I believe “Blue Valentine” has marked the beginning of this same approach to the romantic genre, which in decades past has primarily been dominated by Shakespearean, Allenian, and Sparksian tropes. On the one hand it takes the “love at first sight” concept and plays it all the way through the marriage. On the other hand, however, it takes its time reflecting on each event to read in between the lines we’re often too eager to ignore.

Directed and written by Derek Cianfrance, “Blue Valentine” employs the flashback format “Memento” popularized by moving quickly between the past and present. For the purposes of this review, I will give you a short, linear summary: Cindy and Dean meet by chance, they fall in love, Cindy gets pregnant, they marry, and years later their marriage is now on the rocks. It sounds simple enough; however “Blue Valentine” surprisingly doesn’t spend much time on the attempted recovery of Cindy and Dean’s love, but rather on the process that lead to their current predicament.

Dean is a high school dropout searching for “the one”. Cindy is a promiscuous college girl trying to become a nurse. It’s a classic case of “opposites attract”, but the film digs deeper into the how of the relationship, rather than the why. Cindy’s sudden pregnancy coupled with her refusal to get an abortion practically forces her into Dean’s arms. Is he ready for parenthood, especially given the strong implications that the child isn’t his? It doesn’t matter at the moment because the girl of his dreams is coming to him of her own freewill, and that’s all that counts.

Gosling and especially Williams bring a large amount of depth to their characters; idealistic, everyday people that are coming to terms with the reality of the world. Cianfrance, who reportedly rewrote the script over 67 times, has settled on a version that acknowledges the tears in the relationship early on to try and convince us that the ship will sink, no matter how much we don’t want it to. And believe me; you’ll be swept up in the romance long before the film ends.

“Blue Valentine” is a wonderful, brutal take on romantic fiction, which is often not willing to take risks with the established formula. What prevents it from getting the perfect four-star treatment, in my book, is the lack of natural chemistry between Gosling and Williams, but the writing and performances, nonetheless, transcend this small imperfection. I highly recommend it. ✴

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