Writer/director, Derek Cianfrance relates a two-track arc of a love story which the now of it... is shown, alternately, with his chronicle of the relationship beginning six years earlier between Dean (Ryan Gosling, "All Good Things," "Lars and the Real Girl,") and Cindy (Michelle Williams, "Shutter Island," "Deception," "Brokeback Mountain"). No fanfare is given between the switches in time.
You'll see a younger-looking Dean and Cindy in the earlier account and with a bit more weight on both of them, naturally, as it most often occurs, later on.
(Everyone seems to be shaking his or her head with a gleam of understanding, on that note.)
Gosling has a hairline in the process of receding in the later spin, and Williams's hair is cut shorter for her scenes as she appears as a wife and mother.
Cianfrance (assisted in writing chores by Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne) has craftily shot each thread to accommodate the cast, that would, otherwise, have had a hassle gaining and losing weight and changing hairstyles for the separate shoots that are, finally, intertwined for you to see.
It's not superfluous to mention that, because seeing the principal characters as such, gives "Blue Valentine" a documentary sense of visual being, while, in every frame, Gosling and Williams are immersed, completely, in making their performances not only seem real, but... be real. I felt, at times, I was a voyeur to their numerous behaviors and emotions on the screen. Really---more than merely believable.
As a married couple, Dean and Cindy have a 5 year-old daughter.She's Frankie and played by the debuting Faith Wladyka. Faith has scenes with Gosling that made me think of Jeff Bridges and Jack Nation in their old man/little boy sequences of "Crazy Heart." Good stuff, folks. Cianfrance got it nailed.
Hammering it totally down to reality is what Gosling and Williams do throughout "Valentine." Their meeting, their falling in love, their falling into bed, their devotion to Frankie: Dean's strong fatherly instinct... Cindy's hurried, but grounded love and concerned mothering. Shown as people, ordinary and decent, the couple is living a relationship millions of Americans enjoy... or confront... every day.
Even the part, in the later story thread, when, as reality continues washing-over Cianfrance's script, it all starts to come undone, in those simple, subtle ways.
The open of "Valentine" took me back to an actual childhood experience of mine. I think I was, maybe, 9 or so. We had just moved to a new town, and settling in to our house; but stayed a couple of nights at some friends, until all was straightaway before moving into the new home. We'd been out somewhere in town that first evening, and had left my black Cocker Spaniel pup in the friends' fenced back yard where there was a small fish pond with lily pads in it. I couldn't find my dog on our return. The lady of the house, my mom and I went looking for the puppy. While we were gone, my dad fished the little dog from the bottom of the pond and took her away for me not to see. (Everyone knew, but me.)
That happens in "Blue Valentine," for little Frankie, her dad and her mommy. That made it seem more real to me watching Ryan and Michelle so beautifully acting, yet masking their grief, and contriving a fable for Faith's character to feel better about what had (or really hadn't) happened to her dog that slipped from his pen onto a busy blacktop road nearby.
I won't enumerate more events written into "Blue Valentine," just know that the rest are as authentic to life as my dog story is to me ---some of them more controversial and volatile--- and inspiring.
The film was originally rated "NC-17," but trimmed back to get the "R." Be that as it may, there are scenes between Gosling and Williams, although not fully, anatomically revealing, that push the envelope a bit, much like "Black Swan" is currently doing for filmgoers.
"Blue Valentine" is raw and real and tender and touching. It's happy, goofy... and... it's sad.
But, is it a good one for a date? Well, maybe by the fifth one... but however far into the relationship, both parties ought to be realists.
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