'Blue Valentine': Portrait of a relationship's ups and downs

Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in a scene from "Blue Valentine." He plays a working-class underachiever, she a college student.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in a scene from "Blue Valentine." He plays a working-class underachiever, she a college student.
Posted: October 15, 2010

Michelle Williams needs to make a movie that doesn't have a dog tragedy in it, and she needs to make a movie where she doesn't look like the weight of the world is crushing her soul.

Blue Valentine, an overwrought American indie from writer/director Derek Cianfrance, is not that movie.

Opening with the cries of a little girl and ending with strangely out-of-place fireworks and a boppy Grizzly Bear tune, Blue Valentine - shot in and around Scranton, with a side trip or two to Brooklyn - offers a fractured portrait of a couple's relationship: the meet-cute; the shaggy, charming courtship; the big problems and small grievances on the way to marriage, a daughter, and then what?

Ryan Gosling, whose twitchy, enervated acting style worked to his benefit as a crackhead teacher in Half Nelson, is Dean, a working-class underachiever who meets Williams' college student, Cindy, when he's moving a man's belongings into a retirement home. Her grandma's room is across the hall. Dean and Cindy exchange words. He asks to see her again.

And as fate (and Cianfrance's script) would have it, he does. Wearing a hoodie and a cocky grin, Dean woos Cindy on a bus.

Blue Valentine jumps around, flashing back to Cindy and Dean's early days together, then up to the present, then back to some other time: the other boyfriend, the fight at the doctor's office where Cindy works, the drunken night of sex at a motel. (Blue Valentine was slapped with an NC-17 for those scenes; if you want to see the film before the MPAA appeals and the inevitable trims, now's your chance.)

There's a loose, vérité vibe here, and times when both Williams and Gosling root down deep to deliver something resonant and true. But this modern-day kitchen sink drama (there's even an "I'm so out of love with you" scene right by a kitchen sink) is ultimately too painful, too labored, to care much about at all.


Contact movie critic Steven Rea

at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/philly/blogs/

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