Very blue indeed

Film chronicles one relationship’s beginning and ending

Till death do us part.

Till death do us part.

Blue Valentine
Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Pageant Theatre. Rated R.
Rated 5.0

Blue Valentine is very blue, and not just in its color scheme. Its sex scenes just missed getting the blue-movie status of an NC-17 rating, and the two lovers—a beleaguered young married couple who are its central characters—have got the blues real bad.

It’s a gloomy valentine, kind of like a love story in reverse. But it has a remarkable emotional richness to it—and that’s a credit to its lead performances and to an exceptional script.

Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) lead rather scruffy working-class lives somewhere in Pennsylvania. When we first meet them, she’s a working mom with a job at a local clinic, and he’s a day laborer, currently painting houses, whose only real vocation resides in their homelife. You might say that he, in his charmingly raggedy way, is a full-time romantic.

When they first found each other—as we see in the extended flashback interspersed in the main action—he was a furniture mover and she was a student with aspirations of going to medical school and already serving as caregiver to her aging grandmother. While he has the air of a slightly disheveled slacker and has an amiable insouciance on the job, he shows an extraordinary devotion and sensitivity to the people he cares about—including the senior citizen whose furniture he is moving into a nursing home on the day he first sees Cindy.

The pair’s relationship is already coming unraveled at the film’s outset, and writer-director Derek Cianfrance tells the couple’s story by juxtaposing scenes of their emerging break-up with the first, equally quirky days of their coming together. The seamless and intricate intertwining of past and present has everything to do with the picture’s success in making wonderfully nuanced emotional drama out of what could easily have been a merely depressing anti-romance instead.

Gosling’s Dean is crucial to the paradoxical vision that emerges here. He is a ramshackle sweetheart completely lacking in ambition apart from a surprisingly genuine desire to be content with his beloved and their perky 6-year-old daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka). As such, the film verges on tragic emotion of a low-key sort in its heartbreakingly offhanded account of how his best qualities, and hers as well, are not enough to sustain their marriage over the long run.

The two stars perform a beguiling pas de deux, which devolves first into a hesitation waltz and finally into a disconsolate walk-off. What holds it all together, emotionally, is suggested in the plaintive paradoxes of various everyday episodes in the couple’s slow, centrifugal dissolution.

In an especially touching example near the end, Dean angrily throws his wedding ring away in a parking lot. He joins Cindy in the family car (she’s driving), but jumps out again to go back and retrieve the ring. Cindy gets out and comes over to stand near him as he searches in the bushes, but does not help him look.