Fri 7 Jan 2011
Disregarding the NC-17 soapbox I wrote the first time I tried to write this review, let’s finally get down to business about “Blue Valentine”.
The film, produced and starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, is a frank and realistic depiction of a couple. Like “(500) Days of Summer“, we’re shown via alternating timelines both ends of the relationship – how they began and the possible ending.
However, where Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel’s tale was often punctuated by comedy and full of quirky characters, Gosling and William’s story rarely elicits laughter or strays from depicting their relationship in any stylized manner. It’s a progression that feels both sincere and intense.
The acting is excellent all around. It won’t be surprising to see either Gosling or Williams mentioned on a few end of the year lists, the little girl who plays their daughter (Faith Wladyka) makes their relationship struggles that much more heartbreaking, and John Doman’s depiction of William’s father adds another layer of realism to the project.
Whereas the acting and story are all handled quite well, director Derek Cianfrance makes a number of missteps. The first is in relying completely on hand held camera work. I often find myself defending independent films in their use of this technique, often the result of budget or the consequences of guerilla filmmaking. However, there are a number of shots inside a controlled space that don’t require any significant movement from the actors which could have been improved by the use of a tripod to steady everything.
Also, much like my concerns over the manner in which “Faster” was shot, Cianfrance needed to take a few steps back with the camera for much of the film. The first half of the film, especially, showcases an almost endless parade of severe close ups, where half of the screen is taken up by the actors’ heads. It creates a sense of claustrophobia and maybe watching this at home on a smaller screen will help alleviate this annoyance. The acting is strong enough that you don’t need visual gimmickry to help engage the audience in their plight.
And while the actual shooting of the film is a letdown, the editing and cinematography are executed nicely. Weaving two timelines together so seamlessly, editors Jim Helton and Ron Patane are to be commended, especially for the effective manner in which they contrast the closing scenes of the film. Andrij Parekh’s work to create a very distinctive look for each time period helps the editors in that goal and is also noteworthy.
Weighing all the elements, “Blue Valentine” gets a 4 out of 5 and is 2010′s most honest portrayal of a relationship in flux, with “The Freebie” coming in a close second. Both might not be the best date movies but are certainly worth watching by audiences who don’t want the same romantic formula thrown at them every time. For that reason, Gosling and William’s efforts make this one of my favorites of the year, managing to be one of the few films recently released that created an emotional connection organically, and without trying so hard it seemed like Oscar-bait.