There are several things you shouldn’t do on a first date: talk bitterly about an ex, go for Ethiopian food, bring up Vladimir Putin (something I consistently struggle with). We can now safely add to that list: see Blue Valentine. It’s not that it’s bad, quite the opposite in fact. The movie so perfectly captures falling out of love it is all but guaranteed to leave you questioning your date’s potential as a romantic partner.Blue Valentine isn’t about infidelity or abuse (at least not physically in both cases) it’s about those moments of doubt, those feelings in the pit of your stomach, that are pushed aside in the heat of the moment. Those moments that only hindsight (and conveniently in this case, film flashbacks) can show us where we went astray.
The courtship between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) is not a typical one – no spoilers here, but it’s not your average Plenty of Fish hook up – but like any good love story it feels universal. This is largely due to the brilliant performances by Gosling and Williams who manage to play both star-crossed lovers and their faded counterparts (albeit in Gosling’s case with a rather poorly faked receding hair line). Their intensity and on-screen chemistry causes us to overlook any clichés and instead find parts of ourselves, and our relationships, in Dean and Cindy. Derek Cianfrance’s direction also acts to amplify the feeling of their love draining away. In flashbacks Dean and Cindy often share the shot, while in the present the camera cuts between them, as if they cannot even share a frame, let alone a life together. Technically Cianfrance manages to captures a nostalgic feel by shooting the past on film, while the present is in digital – crisp, sharp and revealing all flaws.
We don’t know how Dean and Cindy got to where they ended up. The four or five years between their wedding day and the marriage’s dissolution are never alluded to. Like all great tragic couples, from Romeo and Juliet to Buffy and Angel, we assume it’s a mix of fate and conscious choices. We assume it’s that shift that can happen, from being in love to understanding what loving someone requires, and realizing you can’t do it. And this is why Blue Valentine feels so real – like Dean and Cindy we don’t know precisely how or when they fell out of love, they just did. And that’s no cliché, it’s a relatable simple truth.
Kiva Reardon is a freelance film reviewer and blogger based in Toronto.