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With: Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling, Mike Vogel, Faith Wladyka, John Doman, Marshall Johnson, Jen Jones, Maryann Plunkett, James Benatti, Barbara Troy, Carey Westbrook, Ben Shenkman, Eileen Rosen, Enid Graham, Ashley Gurnari
Written by: Derek Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne
Directed by: Derek Cianfrance
MPAA Rating: R on appeal for strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating
Running Time: 120
Date: 01/24/2010

Blue Valentine (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

So Much It Hurts

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Derek Cianfrance's Blue Valentine is the kind of movie that John Cassavetes may have dreamt about. It's a mature work for mature audiences, and it doesn't particularly care if teen boys are interested. It's focused on characters and behavior rather than plot. Even more importantly, it's not entirely focused on characters, but also conjures up a kind of visual scheme, or else, why make a movie at all when a play would be much cheaper?

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star as Dean and Cindy. We see them during two periods of their lives, when the meet and marry, and then about five years later when their marriage begins to crumble. The film flashes back and forth between the two times. During the first, Cindy is unsure of herself, and has been known to let a heartless jock called Bobby (Mike Vogel) paw at her body. Dean gets a job as a mover, and while helping an old man relocate into a home, he spots Cindy and falls madly in love with her.

I won't go any further here, but suffice to say that Cindy is less sure of her love than Dean is. She's perhaps looking for comfort, security, and safety, not to mention that she's probably happy that someone loves her. Five years later, Dean and Cindy have a chance to spend the night together alone while Cindy's father watches their daughter. Dean decides to check them into a sex hotel, into the "future room," where everything is covered in silver cloth and red buttons. Unfortunately, there isn't much future here, either figuratively or literally. They drink too much and Cindy leaves early, called to work in her job as a nurse.

Simple plot details don't do justice to the richness of this film, though. Its strength comes in the pure nakedness and comfort the actors share with one another, and even sex here is matter-of-fact (the film initially received an NC-17 rating, which was happily changed with no cutting involved). The actors handle the two time periods masterfully, registering subtle shades of dissatisfaction and maturity, though Williams fares slightly better than Gosling, who relies on hair and makeup to differentiate his two ages. (Gosling is also brave enough to allow his most charming little tics to grow more aggravating in his older half.) None of this is packaged as anything like true romance. Their meet-cute scene -- with a ukulele and tap-dancing no less -- is a little on the pathetic side, and the ending is gnashing and painful, but direct and honest. (Williams and Gosling co-produced the film and apparently rehearsed and improvised extensively before shooting.)

Blue Valentine also has the courage to leave out bits and pieces of exposition, just as the middle five years is left out of this marriage. Images, such as the little girl searching for someone, a pet, in a field, take on a new resonance because of this out-of-time quality. These are the kinds of things that happen slowly, when we're not looking, or just when we think we've grown comfortable. It's not the kind of thing a movie can show in a scene or two. (The theme song is "You Always Hurt the One You Love.") This is a very strong movie, a terrific movie, but approach it at your own risk. I'm glad I saw it, but I don't think I'd like to see it again.

Anchor Bay's Blu-Ray disc comes with a commentary track by director Derek Cianfrance and editor Jim Helton, a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and home movies.

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