Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Video review: "Blue Valentine"

"Blue Valentine" exquisitely nails the joy and heartache of love. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling give tender, frank performances as a couple enjoying the first bloom of romance, and then sparring through its dissolution years down the road.

Writer/director Derek Cianfrance uses an unconventional narrative structure, intercutting scenes of young love between Dean and Cindy with a parallel storyline set a decade or so later, as their marriage crumbles beneath them. From the outset, we know their relationship is doomed, which lends a poignancy to its charming, uncertain inception.

The scene where, on their first date, Dean strums on a ukulele and sings in a funny warble while Cindy dances for him is utterly heartbreaking, because we realize this moment represents the happiest they will ever be together.

Observing the cold stalemate of her parents' marriage, Cindy wonders how she can trust her feelings, since they can fade over time. In the older version of herself, she has reached this point, even if she isn't quite ready to admit it to Dean, or herself.

For his part, Dean seems to have no ambition in life other than being a husband to Cindy and father to their daughter, Frankie (Faith Wladyka). He works a menial job and is content to do so, mainly because it allows him to start drinking with the morning sun, and be home in time to greet Frankie after school.

Cindy, who feels stifled professionally and emotionally, can't comprehend why Dean is so willing to tread water in life when she wants to swim for the far shore. His suggestion of their going to a tawdry couples' motel for a fling in the "Future Room" is a pathetic portrait of their marriage: He thinks they have a future, and she doesn't.

A Sundance hit that didn't light any fires at the box office or awards -- Williams was nominated for an Oscar but, inexplicably, Gosling was not -- "Blue Valentine" is sad, sweet movie-making for grown-ups.

Extras, which are the same for both DVD and Blu-ray editions, are solid if unspectacular. There's a making-of documentary, commentary track, handful of deleted scenes and "home movies" on the set.

Movie: 3.5 stars out of four
Extras: 3 stars

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