Blue Valentine: A Love Story (2011). That’s what it says on the movie poster. But is this what the movie is really about? A romantic, sustained, and profound lifelong bond between two people? Well, maybe it isn’t.
The present: Dean (Ryan Gosling) is an overall likeable, easygoing slacker. His job, painting houses, allows him the ‘luxury’ of drinking beer in the morning. He’s not a radiant source of bliss but being married to Cindy (Michelle Williams) and getting goofy with their little daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) is what he calls “his dream.” However, Cindy, a nurse, has higher aspirations. To her, Dean’s “dream” is nothing but an endlessly depressing nightmare.
The past: Charming high school dropout Dean works as a furniture mover and meets med student Cindy. To him, it’s love at first sight. To her, it’s so-so. He makes jokes, she laughs; he sings and plays the ukulele, she tap dances to the tunes. Her father hates him, but that’s not an issue because love conquers all – right?
The present: It sucks. Cindy knows it. Dean ought to know it. Maybe they just need time to themselves. He takes her to a grubby sex motel with themed rooms and wants to get drunk together in order to retrieve some sense of their previous relationship. Ouch.
There are no soft transitions in Blue Valentine, just harsh cuts between the present and the past. What may sound like an emotional balancing act is simply a back-and-forth between a lovely past and a dull present. The time shifts are relentlessly arranged and in combination with the actors’ performances dreadfully effective in the contrasting, bone-deep experience they’re meant to convey. Since the movie begins in the present, the viewer from the very beginning is never allowed any illusions or romantic feelings.
Maybe Blue Valentine is a deconstruction of those love stories that are all too careful to only show the beginnings of love. Or maybe it is a deconstruction of the concept of romantic love itself. If that’s the case, it happens gently and without mischief. Although the protagonists never experience anything like true, lasting, and romantic love, Blue Valentine is not a cold, harsh, or cynical movie. It feels more like an honest talk with someone pouring their heart out, someone who’s been through quite a bit. If you’re up to an almost two-hour long experience like that, Blue Valentine is for you and lovingly recommended.