When the MPAA gave Blue Valentine an NC-17 rating, cynics suggested that the so-called "kiss of death" was better publicity for the gently experimental marriage drama than anything famously crafty distributor Harvey Weinstein could buy. Then the rating was reversed--downgraded to an R without a single cut to the film--after Weinstein himself reportedly appeared in front of the appeals board armed with a "200-page dossier of letters and arguments, as well as 3,000 tweets." Back when Weinstein bought the film, it was just another tough-sell film festival indie. Now Blue Valentine is the movie that was both hot enough to rankle the censors and beloved enough to make them change their mind.
Anyone looking for porn will be disappointed: Blue Valentine's stars only partially disrobe, and though their couplings are frank, they're not explicit or gratuitous. The film opens Friday at the Coral Gables Art Cinema. Read on for a review and trailer.
The story of how a couple travels from too-cute introduction to
irreconcilable differences in just more than half a decade, this divorce
movie begins with a child's scream. Frankie, the kindergarten-age
daughter of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams), discovers
her dog is missing while mom and dad are still asleep.
When Cindy later comes across the dog's corpse along the side of the
road, the parents decide to ship Frankie to her granddad's house for the
night so they can bury the family pet. With a rare night off from parenthood, Dean decides
the time is right to cash in a gift certificate for a future-themed room
at a pleasure hotel.
They get drunk, but it becomes clear that there's a scant
supply of love left between them. There was once a surplus: Cindy's
chance run-in with an ex-boyfriend at a liquor store on the way to the hotel touches off the first of many long flashbacks to Dean and
Cindy's early days, which Cianfrance weaves through the film to the end,
ultimately dovetailing the couple's wedding day with the last moments
of their marriage. As past and present weave together, the deeper Cindy falls under Dean's
spell in the past, the more cruelly her present-day version rejects her
husband's sexual advances.
As is the case with other non-linear romances (the musicals Merrily We
Roll Along and The Last Five Years come to mind, as does Gaspar Noé's
Irreversible), the emotional depth produced by the juxtaposition of the
naive, idyllic beginning and the post-knowing, crushing end is Blue
Valentine's raison d'être.
It's a gimmick, but not necessarily a bad
one: In the film's final act, as the parallel tracks veer in wildly
different tonal directions, Cianfrance's montage increases in fluidity,
and the crescendo it all comes to is effective, if over-reliant on
Grizzly Bear's ethereal score.
Do "feelings just disappear," as Cindy puts it at one point, without a
visible trace? If so, Blue Valentine may be an accurate, naturalistic
portrait of what it's like to be locked out of your lover's heart and
head, but in contrast to Gosling's hyper-expressive Dean, Cindy's poker
face reads as an imbalance. It's one thing that Dean has no clue who his
wife really is, but, in a film that purports to study intimacy, the
filmmaker could give us more of a glimpse. Without it, Cindy isn't just a
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heartbreaker--she's a villain.