If you take anything away from the following review, please take these two things: 1) Go see Blue Valentine, seriously, and b) take at least one full box of tissues, so you aren’t left snivelling into the sleeve of your cardigan like some people who cannot be named due to legal embarrassment. My one comforting thought was that I wasn’t the only one in the cinema crying and sniffing; it came from all directions, like they’d put pollen in the air vents. I asked Chris afterwards if he cried and he said no, but that he did get emotional. That’s okay, I do more than enough weeping for the both of us, so much so that I should really start bringing Gatorade to relationship movies to replenish my tears so I have enough spare for watching ads for said movie later on.
Like the hit-and-miss (500) Days of Summer, Blue Valentine charts the love of two people, bouncing back and forth from the giddy early days to the later dissolution of the relationship. Unlike (500) Days of Summer, which still had Hollywood shine and was too finely-tuned and glitzy to be honest, Blue Valentine feels so unmistakably real that by the end of the film you are so emotionally invested in now-humourless Cindy (Michelle Williams) and now-drunk Dean (Ryan Gosling) that it feels as raw as watching the breakup of your two best friends.
Set over two days in the present and sparked by the family labrador going missing, Cindy, Dean and five-year-old daughter Frankie bicker and hug and work and live in a world that seems immediately fractious. In an attempt to bring them together while Frankie is having a sleepover at her grandfather’s, Dean books the pair into a love hotel’s future-themed room and there, despite the humour in the room—no windows, rotating bed—the damage to their bond becomes clear. Smoothly revisiting key moments in the early months of their relationship that tie in visually or topically with the present, the trajectory of their life together may be doomed, but as youth they are filled with such hope and excitement it is nothing but heartbreaking.
The cinematic technique of a scattered version of events can often be a pain in the ass to watch, a cheap trick used to make the film seem more Totally Deep and Stuff than it actually is. Blue Valentine shoots down detractors of the technique (possibly just me, however), and will reveal over time how awkward arguments make complete sense, or how a justified reaction becomes too harsh. By the end, the viewer has a whole new perspective on everyone’s actions. Every scene is important, but never feels forced or contrived. At the end of it all, while both Cindy and Dean both act in ways that you may not agree with, neither are horrible people, but rather, just people.
The script hit so close to home in so many scenes that it was impossible not to feel like my life and fears had been catalogued and filmed. The arguments they have spring from the kind of petty comments that I’m liable to make when I’m tired or cranky; their reactions to each other so true to how I get when I’m pissy. (Not a lot, but I’ve just been through Christmas in a Retail Management Capacity so I have possibly been a bit tetchy in high-stakes situations like Oh God the Peanut Butter Has Run Out, or Why Did You Wash Those Jeans I Wanted to Wear Them, You Are the Worst Boyfriend in the History of Forever.) It didn’t make me second-guess my own relationship, as we’ve been together for more than a decade and we don’t suffer from the same ailments—actually none, really, apart from fighting about movies—but the moments of tired resignation or rejected affection in Blue Valentine are maginified versions of moments that every relationship suffers through. Moments of tenderness and love made me cry just as hard as the painful scenes of their fights and one particularly devastating and convincing scene in a hospital that will probably lead to me giving Michelle Williams a sympathetic hug in the street should I ever see her.
In Summary: Exceeds expectations completely. An almost perfect movie, but I’d advise against it if you’re feeling down. It’s not all depression and sadness, and I didn’t leave the movie cursing our fickle emotions, but it’s a fairly melancholy tale of how love can just end. If worried, remember that Williams and Gosling co-produced, so they must be pals in reality, right? Right.
(And in case anyone is wondering, the Tom Waits song Blue Valentine is not in the soundtrack, which is written by the incredible Grizzly Bear.)