Film Review: Blue Valentine

There are those times where for reasons you cannot really pin down something as simple as a name can seemingly unlock a hidden box, a fleeting memory locked away, very deeply, long forgotten and instill ideas carried with complete conviction even though they are seemingly based upon no external proof.

Blue Valentine is exactly one of those cases. The name, in my mind, instantly remember as being a good if maligned film. I don’t know why I hold that view, or whether it’s actually based upon something, but the name restored a snippet of memory and that was enough to draw me to it and it’s cast of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling enough to make me watch it.

Ryan Gosling & Michelle Williams - Blue Valentine

When it comes to movie trailers there are times when I’ll intently watch, study and analyse them before a film. Wanting to either soak everything up or simply dream of anticipated promise. And then there are times where I’ll watch a few seconds and switch it off, either through pure dislike and disinterest or occasionally, through acceptance that the film has my attention but not my desire. Blue Valentine is the latter, the trailer quickly cementing the recounted memory and my decision to watch the film but not enticing me enough to watch the preview the whole way through.

So I basically came to the film cold, knowing it was the story of love, romance and relationship, but that was it. I didn’t know whether it was a whirlwind, implausible boy meets girl tale or a hard hitting I love you then I hate you story of broken hearts. In the end it’s sort of both, woven together in a way that feels both right and wrong. The plot is essentially the unwinding of a relationship from the honeymoon period of simplistic passion we all go through when a romance first starts and ending with the day to day truth of what it’s really like to love and live with somebody when you know all their secrets and see the real, idiosyncratic person. However, in an attempt to keep what is a very simple, obvious and linear story feeling fresh and interesting, Blue Valentine tells it by chopping and changing within the timeline of their relationship. Old returning to new without real warning and back again. A to B but back to A before on to C. And I had a slight problem with this approach in that I just found that it caused the emotional connection to the couple as a whole break from time to time. You’d just start to feel you understood a character, saw their motives and then it’d swing to a different time frame, create a totally different persona, and having not quite cemented those previous feelings, would essentially break your connection to them, causing you to view them with new, almost at odds, feelings. It meant that I never really felt like I knew the characters. I created opinions about them, I sided with them as necessary, but I never truly felt like I was able to create the entire picture. To understand who their individual parts add together to form a whole.

Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams & Faith Wladyka - Blue Valentine

My issue with the character creation and development created by the editing style, isn’t enough to destroy the film, because it’s saved by it’s cast bringing the characters to life. The film is essentially just 112 minutes of Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams meandering through the day to day struggles of a hard apathetic life, and yet I never once got bored, or started to withdraw from the film. Even more, while both leading performers are well known, recognisable faces, their on screen turns convince you so much of the realism, the grittiness and the clarity of their world that you see past the celebrity and into the character. You may be looking at Ryan Gosling but you only ever see Dean. You feel the dirt under their feet and the abrasion of their clothes.

Blue Valentine may peak and trough, stunning cast performance versus choppy narrative story telling, but it’s this accuracy to real life, this naturalism, that makes it feel so relatable. That forces it under your skin. Their love feels joyous, the pain feels real, and the rejections hurt. While the movie plays out across the entire gambit of shared life: dating, marriage, children… it doesn’t matter whether you follow that same exact path, all you need to do is have been through the basic emotions, to have had pure love, lust, rejection… for this film to really get under your skin. To instantly feel the pain of the characters, or their frustration, or their joy, not because you’ve been through the same physically, but because you’ve felt what they do emotionally and so connect it back to your situation, your memories. You empathise with the characters in a way that over rides almost everything else in the film with such strength that it papers over every structural flaw.

Ryan Gosling - Blue Valentine

I was pleasantly surprised by Blue Valentine, quite often films that are designed to feel natural and real end up feeling false and forced and yet Blue Valentine almost goes the other way, it almost becomes too immersive and real on an emotional level that it starts to tease too many memories, good, bad, happy and sad into your mind that you almost want to distance yourself from it for your own safety. It draws you in and then leaves you, not leaving it’s characters lingering in your mind but rather your own memories, and it’s an impressive trick. It’s worth seeing because it’s performances are stunning and it’s ability to connect with you, and manipulate your empathy towards it a painful joy to behold. But it’s a watch once and only once film, because it’s just lacking that real heart, or that touch of warmth that would draw you back to it again and again. It reminds you what it means to be in love, but it’s just it’s not it that you’ll fall in love with.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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