At the end of Blue Valentine this evening, a couple of us, strangers in the audience, turned to one another and said ‘That was hard but glad I saw it’. I went to see this film on my own, grabbing an unexpected opportunity to see it today, and I’m rather glad that it was a solitary experience enhanced by fellowship with an anonymous audience.
Blue Valentine doesn’t tell a story as much as describe a day in which Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), parents of a delightful daughter, very much a daddy’s girl, realise that this is the end of their marriage. A final visit to a hotel and a room decked out like the bridge of the Starship Enterprise (a sure fire key to success in my book) forces them to confront the fact that even sex, that last point of contact between them, is dead. This inevitability is matched with a series of flashbacks through their time together – the jealousy, lust, love, beauty and spirit of their evolving and dying love.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are a charismatic pair and the fact that they are comfortable together shouts out from scene upon scene in Blue Valentine. We see them age through Dean’s receding hairline and the hardening of Cindy’s eyes. There are a number of sex scenes, although they were less stark and intimate than I had been expecting. More shocking for me was the inescapable undercurrent of violence – physical and mental – and the despair and hopelessness of two people who came together for the wrong reasons but find it terrible to break a bond badly made.
Both characters come into their own as individuals in scenes with the elderly and the experienced. Cindy with her grandmother and Dean, the removal man, with the old man that he moves into a retirement home and rearranges his belongings around. It’s touching to see him fix ornaments to the wall, while his colleagues wait in the van. It shows that there is an awful lot of good in these two characters who, together, can find little good about themselves.
There are moments in this film of pure wonder – the first when Cindy dances in the shop doorway and the second – the photographs over the closing credits lit by fireworks. This contributes to my sense that Blue Valentine is exquisitely painful.
When I see Michelle Williams in any role I’m afraid to say that I am unable to escape a sense of personal tragedy. However, in a movie such as this she displays a strength that is intimidating and vulnerable at the same time – she conveys both with just a look.
This is a film of a love story that doesn’t go as movies would wish it to. It doesn’t have the conclusion you may expect or like. It is about two likeable but flawed human beings and their relationship is just one step along the way. Don’t expect an easy couple of hours.
In the loos afterwards a woman said to me how this was an incredible film, moving and memorable, a heroic account of how a man can overcome such odds and I realised that she was actually talking about another movie. The King’s Speech was playing at the other screen.