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The Independent Critic

Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, John Doman
Derek Cianfrance
Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis
Rated R
120 Mins.
The Weinstein Company
Deleted Scenes
Making of Blue Valentine
Home Movies

 "Blue Valentine" Review 
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You won't like Dean. In fact, you may hate him. He may irritate you, frustrate you, anger you or even repulse you.

The mere fact that Dean, as portrayed by Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine, could potentially elicit so many different responses from you speaks volumes about the power, wisdom and authenticity of Gosling's uncomfortably honest and emotionally searing portrayal of Dean, a house painter with a drinking problem and a crumbling marriage but just enough insight to see and feel everything in his world crumbling around him.

Dean is not a man who should elicit pure sympathy, but Gosling's brave and vulnerable performance refuses to allow us to completely hate the man. Dean is, above all else, a fully realized human being's whose quirks, foibles, flaws and fractures have contributed to this precarious place where he finds himself alongside his wife, Cindy (Michelle Williams), a nurse who has grown weary of the constant friction, emotional abuse and, perhaps more than anything, has tired of being in a relationship with a shell of the man she married.

While it would seem an easy conclusion that Blue Valentine, directed by Derek Cianfrance, places the blame squarely at Dean's feet for the seemingly inevitable collapse of this marriage, the film effectively flashes back and forward to paint a picture of the ever widening fault lines that have created such a chasm that a seismic shift seems to be the only way this relationship can find resolution.

We are initially introduced to Dean and Cindy at a point of fracture, a moment involving their daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) and an ill-fated but beloved pet that points vividly to the existing depth of divide that has grown between Dean and Cindy. It is in this scene that you will become mesmerized by Michelle Williams' truly mesmerizing performance, an achingly beautiful and transparent portrayal that will make you understand both why Dean fell in love with her and why, years later, their love is tattered and torn. It is in the scene that follows that we gain insight into the essence of Dean, a man whose jaded bitterness initially seems unfathomable yet whose layers are slowly peeled away to reveal a man who, perhaps, entered this relationship not fully informed and who struggles to put all the pieces of the puzzle together in time.

It is a tremendous testimony to Gosling that we feel deeply for Dean, even when moment after moment finds him behaving in ways that seem inexplicably awkward, neglectful and even at times cruel. Gosling has always refused steadfastly to paint a single note portrait of a character, and his performance here is so complex that you can't help but be drawn into his experience. It is unjustifiable that Gosling was not nominated for a Best Actor Golden Globe, further evidence that this year's nominations were a sham and laughably off base.

Blue Valentine may have garnered more attention for its flirtation with an NC-17 rating, courtesy of the increasingly irrelevant MPAA and their archaic standards of decency. While there's no denying that Blue Valentine is an adult drama with multiple scenes of sexuality, it is for the most part far less graphic in its depictions of sexuality than any number of other films including the recent R-rated Love and Other Drugs. Fortunately, wisdom prevailed and Blue Valentine received its R rating on appeal. Far more graphic than the scenes of sexuality in Blue Valentine would be its unrelenting emotional nakedness, a devotion to truth and honesty that is seldom seen on screen these days and even more seldom portrayed with such miraculous conviction.

There are moments, it is worth noting, when Blue Valentine seems to be belaboring its authenticity to such a point that it borders on cienmatic manipulation. It is in these moments, fortunately they are few, that Blue Valentine starts to feel forced and, at times, flirts with crossing the line into melodrama. Fortunately, co-writers Cianfrance, Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne pull back each time the film starts to wade into melodrama and, even more fortunately, Williams and Gosling never lose their grips on their characters.

Blue Valentine is the type of film you will either leave the theater talking about or you will need to sit in silent contemplation as you wade through the thoughts, emotions and reactions you've had along the way. Either way, Blue Valentine is one of 2010's best adult dramas led by two of the year's best performances from Golden Globe nominee Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic