Blue Valentine

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 February, 2011, 12:00am

Starring: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams
Director: Derek Cianfrance
Category: III

Midway into Blue Valentine, the couple at the centre of the story arrive at a love motel boasting themed rooms - an excursion the husband, Dean (Ryan Gosling), initiated to reignite his fraying marriage with Cindy (Michelle Williams, right with Gosling). Having eschewed the 'Cupid's Cove' chamber in favour of 'The Future Room', Dean enters the room and is immediately overcome by a child-like frenzy over the corny science-fiction decor and, most importantly, the giant, circular rotating bed. The visibly petrified Cindy, meanwhile, can only muster this observation: 'There are no windows!'

One of Derek Cianfrance's film's more surreal moments, this scene neatly sums up Dean and Cindy and the schisms driving them apart - the slouchy manchild who still believes in a return to youthful follies as a solution to problems brought about by the wariness of age, and the frustrated woman who can only see there's no way out of the existential predicaments she is forced to confront as she reflects bitterly on a bright future long gone and a present, as a mother and wife, completely at odds with her aspirations for something better in life.

Cindy's comment could be a description of Blue Valentine itself: from its opening scenes of the interaction between the pair and their daughter on a nondescript weekday morning to the final altercations, the film offers a view of a relationship careering off the rails, with the smallest of things (an unlocked garden gate; an off-the-cuff remark about an ex) only accelerating its demise.

Cianfrance interweaves the present with the past - in which the much younger Dean and Cindy are seen at the beginning of their courtship and then facing problems together - to highlight the dead-end nature of their lives.

Dean, a sporadically employed blue-collar worker, seemingly spends most of his time drinking and taking care of their daughter; Cindy, meanwhile, works in the local hospital as a nurse. Cindy seems to be the more agitated of the pair, and the flashbacks explain why: in a parallel 'past' thread interwoven with the 'present' narrative, she is a promising student who aspires to study medicine at university, but her hopes are dashed by pregnancy; Dean is a jovial, kind-hearted home-mover looking for love rather than a better standing in life.

Blue Valentine is an ode to a relationship driven to extinction by missed opportunities and miscommunication. With hardly a villainous act committed, the characters' mundane lives add to the disturbing authenticity of their marital problems. Gosling and Williams deliver gripping turns as the nuanced Dean and Cindy. The film is an effective piece about paradise lost - if there ever was a paradise.

Blue Valentine opens today