You know the films that you really love but you would never recommend to someone. I mean you would recommend them, obviously, but you would recommend them in a way that almost ensured they wouldn't see actually follow up on your recommendation. It isn't that it's luke warm, far from it. That's how Derek Cianfrance's 2010 film was introduced to me. 'It's brilliant but hard going,' was the advice and 'don't watch it with your girlfriend/wife/partner.'
Now I know why. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a young couple, who have been married for five years. The day is similar to many others. Work, getting the kid to school, breakfast. Only the dog is missing and this is the beginning of the end. Already you can sense that there are palpable tensions. It isn't the things they say, it's the things they aren't saying, they stop themselves form saying. They don't even need to say because it has all been said. There's anger there and rage and the inability to be in the same room or even look directly at their better halves and yet at the same time of being tormented when you're not with that person. Are we still talking about the film?
If you've ever been in a relationship that wasn't in a Sandra Bullock movie then you will recognise the hairline cracks. We are gifted with flashbacks of a happier time. They meet; they meet again; there's a conversation, there's sex. Dean (Gosling) is an apparently carefree young man with a grab bag of talents--he's musical, imaginative, caring--but no urge to exploit them. He works for a removal firm. Cindy (Williams) is a young woman with a dream of becoming a doctor and killing time looking after her grandmother and getting it on with the school jock. Through the past, we see an explanation for the present. The charming talents Dean possessed seemed to have sunk into lethargy and first stage alcoholism; Cindy's ambitions have been thwarted and her bitterness is partly sublimated into her hostility with Dean. This could so easily have become melodrama. I was waiting for the violent scene (especially when the couple resort to a local sex themed hotel to patch up their differences). But violence would actually have been too easy a denouement and for the most part, there are the words which come out of their mouths which make actual violence redundant. These people have torn each other's lives apart. What are some bruises and loose teeth to that?
The genius of the film, and it is extremely skilfully and smartly done, is that at no point does Cianfrance, nor the cast, tip their hands. There is no point that we feel Cindy, or Dean are the guilty or the innocent party. These are two people, two essentially good and kind people who are killing each other.
This is the anti-Juno picture. This is the picture that says have the abortion. It is one of the most interesting portraits of a relationship I've ever seen. If all the romantic comedies you have ever seen are Dorian Gray (beautiful, calculating and cold), then Blue Valentine is the portrait in the attack: the reality that paid for the truisms and banal lies of romantic
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John Bleasdale is a writer. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Il Manifesto, as well as CineVue.Com and theStudioExec.com. He has also written a number of plays, screenplays and novels.