It can be said that there are never any real ‘happily ever after’s in real life, and this film is a sweet and sour interpretation of that statement. In development for 12 years, co-writer/director Derek Cianfrance has created a fine example of parallel storytelling. One half of the story depicts the beginning of a ‘beautiful relationship’ between actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams and the end of their marriage. That may give away the ending, but I think a number of smart audience members will already figure this out 15 minutes into the film. The point of this comparison is to see how people meet, become friends, fall in love, and then witness all the mistakes, quarrels, and destruction that can poison any relationship.
One of the things that make this film interesting is the unsupportive, supporting characters in the story. Michelle Williams’ character, Cindy, constantly makes reference to her venomous father, her dangerously jealous ex-boyfriend, and her awkward doctor co-worker who has ulterior motives when asking about her rocky relationship to Dean. Ryan Gosling’s character, Dean, is a fairly simple man whose only big flaw is that he does not seem to try hard enough in his career pursuits. Dean seems to be content to only be a husband and father, much to Cindy’s disapproval over time. As a father, Dean is always there for their daughter, and as a husband, he seems to work extra hard to try to keep things intimate and comfortable between him and Cindy. Unfortunately, Cindy no longer feels entertained by Dean’s high-jinx. These are the same tricks he played on her in order to win her heart and they now have less effect. In the segments where they first meet, Dean and Cindy seem like complete opposites who are only brought together by amusing coincidences. Dean can play ukulele and Cindy can tap dance. They seem to communicate well with each other, and they seem to enjoy each other’s company. Nothing seems for certain in their relationship except for the love of Cindy’s daughter; a little girl who is in fact not Dean’s child—but this does not seem to disturb him who does see her as his own.
The performances in this film are excellent. Ryan Gosling creates one of his most genuinely, likeable characters despite his crass qualities and childlike arrogance. Michelle Williams creates a strong, but introverted woman who wants to accomplish many things in her life, but is not sure if she is going at it correctly. The film contains some beautiful cinematography by Andrij Parekh who colors many of the landscapes in cool, neon blue tones at night or overcast-esque lighting styles for day sequences. This visual subtlety brings out the overall meaning to its story and title. Every relationship has its up’s and down’s, and it is up to the people involved to not let the coldness or negativity of the world and those around them to affect their relationship. But sometimes, the world is all encompassing.