Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) are married. Albeit, not happily married, but in a union nevertheless. There is no clear-cut reason why the love they once shared has completely vanished, but this is a plot device that fits the breathtaking 'Blue Valentine'. It presents no clear-cut reasons for the disintegration of love, but offers contextual supporting arguments based on Dean and Cindy's tumultuous past. And boy, is it difficult to watch. 'Blue Valentine' is emotionally draining, and is the type of film you don't save for a rainy Sunday. That is, unless you want to spend the remainder of your day on the couch crying. However, 'Blue Valentine' also happens to be the most affecting film of the year, and a subtle work of genius.
Dean and Cindy are a quiet married couple, with a modest home in the country, a loving dog, and an amazing young daughter. However, for all the things that make them seem normal, they could fill a void with all the things they should be saying to each other, but aren't. Dean is quiet and simple, a man who goes to work as a painter to make money for his family, and isn't as worried about fulfilling his potential as he should be. His family is his first priority, even though he has no idea how to mend Cindy, who is the very definition of damaged goods. She is high strung, difficult, and there are hints that she wishes she had become something more. She resents Dean for holding her back, and for never really growing up, and he resents her for making him work so hard for her love, which should just be there intuitively. Dean loves Cindy, but Cindy doesn't return his affection. When one half of the relationship just doesn't care anymore, what can the other really do? And so, on the precipice of the point of no return, Cindy and Dean take a trip together, in a bid tor restore their crumbling marriage. One must wonder if, by this juncture, it's just too little, too late.
This present-day tale of the destruction done to a marriage that was once full of love and affection is driven by the performances by the two leads. Ryan Gosling is spellbinding as Dean, the overworked, balding, (potentially) alcoholic husband who would do just about anything to put his life back together. He commands the screen in the final half hour, and when he cries, you can't help but get misty eyed too. Gosling holds nothing back, and his knack for taking indie roles and making them his own pays off here. He is emotional gripping, and he will literally break your heart into pieces before the credits roll.
Williams, to her credit, does much more than just keep up with Gosling. As the emotionally damaged and indecisive Cindy, she literally embodies a woman who can't decide between letting her marriage live to fight another day, or cutting ties and running as far as she can from Dean. She is conflicted, and realizes there is no right answer or happy ending to this story. Does she want to be the bad person and get out of a dead union, or does she stay and live like a prisoner? Picking the right choice is easier said than done, and watching this struggle is difficult for the viewer. Williams and Gosling both deserve Oscar nominations for their gripping performances.
Neither Dean or Cindy are bad people. Maybe this is why 'Blue Valentine' hurts the viewer so much. How does the viewer pick a side when neither character is particularly malicious or evil? Dean gave his whole life to Cindy. Cindy was all he ever wanted, and despite their problems, he wants to work to make things better. Cindy is a complex woman who doesn't know what she wants. All she knows is that she can't stay and let things keep going downhill. If the characters are ruthless to each other, it is because they are victims of their hostile environment. The pressures they're going through are causing them to lash out. What makes 'Blue Valentine' such an effective portrayal of married life is that is zooms in when it should be shielding away, and director Derek Cianfrance is brave enough to show every grueling detail, no matter how uncomfortable the viewer will get. 'Blue Valentine' is a complex beast of a movie, based on an idea that should be so simple. But since when could marriage be simple? It will literally shatter your heart, and even if that idea puts you off, you have to check out 'Blue Valentine', if only to see how a true heart wrenching love story told on film, with more honesty and emotion than you'll ever see coming.