Blue Valentine is a horror movie. Scariest movie I’ve seen all year for sure. Told much in the same back-and-forth manner as last year’s (500) Days of Summer — sans the impromptu dance numbers and animated bluebirds — this anti-love story gives the phrase “storybook romance” a bad name.
With the first glimpse of Cindy (Michelle Williams), Dean (Ryan Gosling) becomes drawn like moth to flame. He walks up to her while working for a moving company and explains that the wad of cash he just pocketed isn’t stolen. “I made this money from my job.. money that I can take girls out on dates with,” he suavely tells her through the cracked door to her grandmother’s room in the retirement home.
A high-school dropout, Dean isn’t very smart. But he’s damn charming and a true romantic. “You know when you hear a song and you can’t help but dance?” he asks his coworkers in an attempt to explain his feelings of “love at first sight,” like only you see in the movies. Well, most movies.
Fast forward five years. They’re drunk and fighting in the “future room” of a sleazy hook-up hotel that Dean booked as a last-ditch effort to find some romance. Hint: If you can’t stop fighting long enough to enjoy a spinning bed, there’s no hope left.
The well-publicized NC-17 rating that has since been repealed doesn’t seem to carry much weight. Dean practically has to beg his wife for sex and clearly resents Cindy for continuing to reject his advances. But does she reject him because he’s an asshole? Or is he an asshole because he’s tired of feeling unwanted? Which came first? The chicken? The egg? I guess we’ll never know. Director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance doesn’t explore the middle ground, those little fights that boost the relationship into the train wreck it has become.
The couple’s explosive arguments are pulled off with great realism and intimacy. They’re almost painfully relatable. Williams achieves a natural grace in even the grimmest of moments. Gosling, more clearly acting than his counterpart, falls victim to excessive posturing, while his brooding stares suggest he’s studied Rebel Without a Cause like a text book. The closing credits are some of the finest I’ve seen, and Grizzly Bear’s moody soundtrack hits all the right and wrong notes — much like the relationship it’s underscoring.
When they met, Cindy was a driven pre-med student albeit a tad promiscuous (to put it lightly). Though Dean learns she was knocked up by a tough-guy college wrestler (Mike Vogel, Cloverfield) before they even met, Dean sticks by her and the two rush into marriage. By all accounts, Dean and Cindy become good parents.
I’d hate to believe this bastard is responsible for the couple’s downfall, but we’re given no evidence to believe otherwise. Had Cindy not been pregnant, there would have allowed for a more refined period of courting to either give their relationship room to blossom or enough time to realize it can’t work.
Blue Valentine is a romantic tragedy, to be sure. But what’s the real tragedy here? The fact that they got married? Or their inevitable divorce? That’s an issue facing a lot of couples these days.