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Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2011

Blue Valentine

Film features believable, sympathetic turns by Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams

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Blue Valentine garnered loads of buzz over the battle for its rating. Somehow, despite frontal nudity and graphic sex, its handlers managed to win an R instead of the dreaded NC-17. It must be said that the naked parts of Blue Valentine aren’t entirely gratuitous and fit the overall gritty tone; the decidedly unerotic sex follows from the film’s grimly realistic account of lust gone stale and love gone sour.

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are married with child, a lovely little daughter called Frankie. Despite Dean’s obvious affection for his family, their life falls well short of idyllic. Cindy has become the stern pillar of organization while Dean remains as always a goofy breeze of irresponsibility. He gets on her nerves. “I don’t need to clean up after two kids,” she snaps.

The irritation of shouldering the heaviest financial burden for their toy-strewn, shabby lower-middle-class existence wears on her like cheap, itchy fabric. Cindy is a nurse’s aide and Dean works for a furniture mover. In one of the many flashbacks to the young carefree couple of only a few years before, we learn she had wanted to be a doctor. We also see that Cindy aborted Frankie’s abortion just as the physician was about to begin the procedure.

For her, the last years have come down to sacrifice. Dean, who never graduated high school, had less to lose. Their romance has been trampled in the harried race between work, school and disappointment, and the giddy happiness of their early encounters is as deflated as a worn-out tire. Dean’s best thought for rekindling the old spark, one night in the “Future Room” of a shopworn sybaritic motel, is pathetic. Sex has become an angry, hurtful intrusion.

Filming digitally to reflect the dull, flat grime of the couple’s life, director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance brilliantly insinuates the complexity of their emotional and sexual responses—their unsteady notion of love formed from romance novels and pop songs. Much credit for Blue Valentine goes to Gosling and Williams, who render their characters believable and sympathetic, even in their worst moments.