You know what I love? Love stories! I can’t get enough of them. Half of Blue Valentine is a wonderful love story, but that is not the point of the movie. There is a whole other half of the film that is about Ryan Gosling’s hairline. I kid. It’s about Gosling and Michelle Williams’s characters deeply out of love. “But that is the opposite of a love story, the thing you love?!” you ask me, aghast, tears streaming down your face, trembling, in the rain and wind. While I do enjoy love stories, I still thought Blue Valentine was great. Even though it wasn’t a love story. And was depressing!
Blue Valentine recounts the relationship between Gosling’s Dean and Williams’s Cindy. When we first see them, they are married with a daughter. Dean is going bald. They have a dog. General marital ennui going on, but with some sinister undertones. Like when Cindy leaves the gate open and the dog gets out and the dog dies and Dean has to bury the dog. I’d say spoiler warning but this movie is about people and not about dogs.
Just then, BOOM FLASHBACK. No Pennsylvania, no children, no dogs, no receding hairlines. Just Ryan Gosling, working as a mover, looking for love. Dean doesn’t seem very ambitious as a mover. He is just trying to find the girl of his dreams. Cindy, meanwhile, wants to be a doctor, is trouble by her parents’ loveless marriage, and spends a great deal of time with her grandmother who has recently moved into a rest home. While moving/ decorating for an elderly gentleman into said rest home, Dean catches a glimpse of Cindy. So starts their courtship.
The emotions of Blue Valentine rely upon when things are revealed. For example, when Mike Vogel’s Bobby and Cindy run into each other in a liquor store in the present, the audience is unaware of their tumultuous past relationship. Shifting to the earlier times, we learn of their relationship and its acrimonious end (and by “learn of their relationship” I mean we see Bobby just RAMMING Cindy and by “acrimonious end” I mean he forgets to pull out).
The movie’s most fascinating scenes are underwritten with what is left unsaid. Sure, there are hints of where Cindy and Dean’s love will turn sour during their courtship, and there are glimpses of a love under the surface of bitterness in their marriage, but the film revels in the ambiguity of the space between the two points. Gosling and Williams have to fill in that space with their performances and both do so very well.
The most tragic part of Blue Valentine is that neither Cindy nor Dean are completely to blame for their marriage’s end. A case can be made that one was more at fault than the other, but sympathies for either character might be loaded with personal motivations. It’s a mix of temperament, circumstance, expectations, and mistakes that break the two apart.
In closing, Blue Valentine is a swell film that will make you feel hopeless about love!