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MOVIE REVIEW: Blue Valentine

Not a date movie, but a powerful heartbreaker

(L-R) Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy in "Blue Valentine."

(L-R) Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy in "Blue Valentine."

  • (L-R) Ryan Gosling as Dean and Michelle Williams as Cindy in "Blue Valentine."
  • Michelle Williams as Cindy in "Blue Valentine."
  • Ryan Gosling as Dean in "Blue Valentine."
  • Filmmaker/Director Derek Cianfrance of "Blue Valentine."
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This sure is a Blue Valentine. It’s the story of a marriage crumbling, but in flashbacks we see a wonderful love story.

So many women have told me how much they liked The Notebook, which was entertaining enough--but a crappy love story. One of my problems with it is when they showed the courtship in flashbacks, nothing was all that romantic about it. On one date, they laid in the street looking at stoplights.

In this, we see the couple meet in a cute way at an old folks' home. Former San Diegan Michelle Williams is helping take care of her grandmother, and Ryan Gosling is helping someone move in. She thinks he stole money from the old guy. In fact, when we see this scene from another timeframe in a flashback, Gosling is in perhaps the sweetest scene you’ll ever seen on screen.

While the other movers just want to get home, drink beer or talk about women, he wants to help hang pictures for this old guy, who clearly wouldn’t be able to do it on his own. It’s such a beautiful gesture, it makes us fall in love with Gosling’s character.

I sort of went off track, though. The point I wanted to make is that they meet the normal way. The guy is throwing lines out there like, “You could be a super model.” Yet when she reluctantly goes on a date with him he says the right things, he’s cute, and when she talks him into singing her a song, he makes her dance along. She taps, while he sings a warbly, Tiny Tim-esque version of "You Always Hurt the One You Love," which becomes more poignant later in the movie.

You think about a lot of things while watching this movie and after it’s over.

You hate Williams for falling out of love with him. How could she? He’s done so much for her and is such a great father.

And what I think makes the movie brilliant is what will frustrate a lot of folks. There doesn’t seem to be any reason as to why she doesn’t want to be with him. He’s a great person--she’s just simply fallen out of love.

Later in the movie, we hear her talk about how he can sing and draw, but isn’t “living up to his potential.” We also get the feeling there might be something with a doctor she works with (she’s a nurse). I won’t give away how that concludes, but it’s very powerful on so many levels.

The performances by Gosling and Williams are powerful, and brave. I think it’s the first nude scene for Williams, and I’m glad that and the graphic sex scene didn’t cause the ratings board to freak out. These scenes were hardly gratuitous.

When Gosling gets in the shower with her at a themed hotel (nothing like rekindling the marriage in a “futuristic room”), the way she pushes him away and is uninterested--and the way he is too naïve to pick up on it--well, it’s outstanding, subtle acting. Gosling also does a great job with a New York accent and pulling off an uneducated working-class character.

This certainly isn’t the feel-good movie of the year, and certainly not a date film. It’ll break your heart (heck, the film starts with a dog dying) … but I loved it.

The flashbacks are well done. I’ve seen movies before where they show a relationship ending, while the flashbacks show it just beginning, but it seemed so much more authentic in this.

The movie was co-written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, who did a fabulous job making this John Cassavetes-esque picture. I could’ve used a tad less of the shaky and unfocused camera, which I’m sure he thought added to the realism of it all.

The movie did have a few missteps, but not many. One was the angry father, who we see yelling about the horrible food at the dinner table. I didn’t like that scene in The Prince of Tides and it seems contrived here.

When my friend and I were leaving the theater, we couldn’t stop talking about every aspect of the movie. Why did she want to leave him? Why didn’t she call the cops on her old boyfriend? Why did she even talk to the guy when she runs into him later? Was Gosling an alcoholic?

He insisted that Gosling had a drinking problem. Well, both characters seemed to like to drink on occasion. There’s no proof that had anything to do with it. Can’t people just stop caring for people, with no specific reason? It doesn’t have to be an affair, a drug problem or horrible fights. In fact, the fights they have all seem to be recent and stem from the fact that she is pushing him away.

In the bathroom, as we continued our discussion, two other people joined in. They had the same feelings, and one claimed Williams was the biggest bitch in the world. Although I sort of agreed, I asked “So, because Gosling is a great father, and a supportive husband … a woman should just stay in a marriage with a man she no longer loves or is happy with?”

The conversation went on another 15 minutes (we slowly made our way out of the bathroom and back into the movie theatre lobby). I probably could’ve talked with them for another few hours about the movie, because that’s what this film does to you.

It’s a shame I will not recommend it to anyone, as I think most people won’t like the depressing nature of it. I found it a fascinating film.

I’m giving it a B.