Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Blue Valentine - Review

I saw Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine a few weeks ago, and had so much to say about it, but it took my a while to get around to finishing my review.  

Before getting into the heavy stuff, the film is, aesthetically, beautiful. Andrij Parekh's loose camera work is gorgeous and draws you into the chaos and intimacy of Dean & Cindy's marriage.

Director Derek Cianfrance wanted Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear to write a score for his film. 

Scheduling problems ruled that out, but Grizzly Bear did the next best thing & handed him their entire catalogue of music to use as he pleased. As a result, the bulk of the film is still underscored by the indie cool of the Brooklyn music scene. 

These stylistic touches contribute to the swooning beauty of the outsider love story and help make the heavier parts easier to swallow.  

As for the heavy stuff, there's plenty of it. Without divulging too much plot, Blue Valentine looks at two pivotal moments in a young marriage - when it began, and when it is in danger of falling apart.

How it begins is an intense swirl of indie cool and bruised adolescence where two damaged people find each other and - under less than ideal circumstances - decide to stick together. How it falls apart is like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf with indie kids - no big infidelities or secrets, just the small frustrations that become overwhelming. Heartbreaking stuff.  

It's not an easy film to watch - it is raw, unflinchingly honest and refuses to choose sides. Both characters wear their pain on their sleeves and what initially brought them together threatens to tear them apart when they are unable to put it aside for the sake of their marriage. The joy is mapped out in as much complex detail as the misery. 

Much has been made of the film's sex scenes, but Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams give performances so real & vulnerable, it feels like they are holding their souls up for scrutiny. In that context, there is nothing in the sex scenes that is any more revealing or uncomfortable to watch than in their fully-clothed conversations. Additionally, as in any marriage, the dynamics of the sex scenes are pivotal to revealing their state of intimacy, and, though uncomfortably real, the scenes are certainly not intended to be gratuitously erotic.     

It is a testament to the actors' commitment to their characters that their turmoil is so riveting to watch - these two lost souls feel so real, and their frustrations so palpable, you desperately want to pull them aside and talk them through it.

Blue Valentine is probably best viewed as a cautionary tale about letting your emotions get the better of you. By allowing us to see what their marriage becomes, and also how it started, we are able to see the seeds of what comes between them in the end - whether it's Cindy's fragile & withdrawn nature, or Dean's volatile bullheadedness, what was sweet & charming to them at the start becomes unbearable when they can't get past their own insecurities to be good to each other.

The heartbreak of the film is to learn to face up to the small things in each of our lives that can get the better of us, if we let them, and push away the people and things we love and need the most. 

One of the best written and best acted films of the year. 

Grizzly Bear - Easier, featured in Blue Valentine.

& Penny & the Quarters - You & Me - Dean & Cindy's song: