February 16, 2011

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

WHAT IT IS: The movie follows Dean and Cindy, a married couple in turmoil and recalls their relationship’s romantic beginnings as the present one threatens to unravel.

HOW IT IS: Blue Valentine also arrives accompanied by much hoopla. An underdog in the Oscar race this year, the movie was recently given much press because of its NC-17 rating decreed by the MPAA (a kiss of death for most movies in the US) because of intimate graphic love scenes between the married couple and the producers’ fight to get the rating downgraded to an R (which ultimately happened).

That said, it seems to me that Blue Valentine’s hype has been greatly exaggerated. In his directing, Cianfrance rarely delves into the unfamiliar territory for an independent film, sticking to close-ups and a jagged camera, pillars of the independent movie aesthetic. The movie’s biggest attractions are its stars, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, also the movie’s producers. Their (previously censored) love scene is one of the most uncomfortably confusing scenes ever put to film. And it carries such truth and emotions, about the characters, about their progressive drift away from each other, about the complexity of long relationships, that it is by itself reason enough to see this movie.

But an interesting or thought-provoking scene (or several, in this case) does not a movie make and Blue Valentine suffers essentially from two ills: it is clearly only meant as an actor’s vehicle; and it is limited by its director lack of innovation and risk-taking. If this movie had been made in the middle of the ‘90s, it would’ve been ahead of the curve. But now, 15 years later, it errs from a great lack of vision and the ubiquitous use of its aesthetics.  

IF YOU LIKE: Independent dramas like Wendy and Lucy or Before Sunrise/Sunset.