×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Blue Valentine

An intensely acted, minutely observed attempt to convey the arc of a romantic involvement.

With:
Dean - Ryan Gosling Cindy - Michelle Williams Frankie - Faith Wladyka Jerry - John Doman Bobby - Mike Vogel Dr. Feinberg - Ben Shenkman Gramma - Jen Jones Glenda - Maryann Plunkett

The beguiling beginning and dismaying deterioration of a relationship are charted simultaneously in “Blue Valentine,” an intensely acted, minutely observed attempt to convey the arc of a romantic involvement. Onscreen continuously for two hours in various states of emotional extremity, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams dive into the deep end of commitment to their roles as young working-class parents and bring them fully alive. Director Derek Cianfrance, whose “Brother Tied” played at Sundance in 1998, employs a close-up, impressionistic style that has its pros and cons, but on balance, this is a meaty, strongly realized dramatic work of considerable accomplishment. Name actors provide the film a serious profile, but it will take a dedicated distributor to muscle this very far into the theatrical market.

Shooting in intense closeups with long lenses and the Red digital camera system in the contemporary breakup scenes, Cianfrance immediately conveys the impression of eavesdropping on real life. Dean (Gosling), a good-looking regular Joe rarely without a cigarette and a beer, horses around at home with young daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) in a modest wooded Eastern neighborhood. Wife Cindy (Williams), who’s naturally attractive but letting herself go, seems sulky; life seems limited, there is a cloud concerning their missing dog and Grandpa (John Doman) is on oxygen.

On a quick grocery stop, Cindy bumps into Bobby (Mike Vogel), an ex she hasn’t seen in a long time, who impudently asks if she’s been faithful to her husband. Disgusted, she later mentions the encounter to Dean, who goes into a petulant snit. No matter what they discuss, Dean and Cindy end up arguing; their dynamic is uniformly negative and destructive.

Flashing back a few years earlier, in material shot for greater depth of field and visual detail with a shorter lens and on Super 16mm, a younger Dean (defined mostly by a fuller head of hair) happily takes a job with a moving company in Brooklyn, while Cindy is a student with an eye on the medical profession, with wrestler Bobby as her b.f. Dean and Cindy meet while helping people at an old folks’ home, and Dean is genuinely funny and charming in courting a girl he quickly comes to love and desire as his lifelong mate.

The film swings back and forth between the rising feelings of a developing relationship, one complicated by an unplanned pregnancy, and the downward spiral of its fracture. In the contemporary timeframe, the couple go to a “romantic” hotel, and while there is some upside to their night together, Cindy is ultimately called upon to cut it short for work, which leads to a giant blow-up.

Cianfrance, working with co-screenwriters Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne and undoubted input from the actors, has succeeded in creating a precise mosaic of a relationship from innumerable small details; moment to moment, the film lives and breathes with emotional truth. The looming question, however, is whether or not it gets to the bottom of what went wrong between Dean and Cindy. It’s clear that Cindy comes to feel that Dean will always love and be there for her, and he is; he’s also a good father. However, he never matures, displays no ambition and seems oblivious to the issue of how they might improve their lot in life, which is terribly mundane.

While all this is no doubt disappointing to Cindy, she hasn’t helped matters by retreating into a cocoon, and despite a decent job, she hardly seems more capable than her husband of helping to raise the family out of the doldrums. The film is so focused on charting the couple’s emotional fluctuations that even a slightly bigger perspective is never suggested; it’s difficult to pinpoint what went wrong or if there were roads not taken that could have prevented the sorry outcome.

Scruffy-looking but handsome, Dean reaches his full potential when he marries Cindy; he apparently assumes life can just go on from there without any particular planning or strategy. Cindy is similar in this respect but, unlike her husband, is dissatisfied with the stasis. Gosling and Williams interact beautifully and without a false note, their deep immersion in their roles resulting in nothing but behavioral truths.

It’s also a muscular, highly controlled piece of filmmaking, with its photographic style carefully judged and the editing balancing both dual narrative tracks and quicksilver mood changes. Craft contributions are uniformly strong. Lensing was done in Pennsylvania, with some location work in New York.

Popular on Variety

Blue Valentine

Production: An Incentive Filmed Entertainment presentation of a Silverwood Films/Hunting Lane Films production in association with Chrysler/Shade Pictures/Motel Movies/Cottage Industries. Produced Jamie Patricof, Lynette Howell, Alex Orlovsky. Executive producers, Doug Dey, Jack Lechner, Scott Osman, Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams. Co-producer, Carrie Fix. Co-executive producers, Cassian Elwes, Rena Ronson. Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Screenplay, Cianfrance, Joey Curtis, Cami Delavigne.

Crew: Camera (Technicolor, Super 16mm/DV-to-HD), Andrij Parekh; editors, Jim Helton, Ron Patane; music, Grizzly Bear; music supervisor, Joe Rudge; production designer, Inbal Weinberg; set decorator, Jasmine Ballou; costume designer, Erin Benach; sound, Damian Elias Canelos; sound designer, Dan Flosdorf; supervising re-recording mixer, Cory Melious; re-recording mixer, Tony Volante; assistant director, Mariela Comitini; casting, Cindy Tolan. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (competing), Jan. 24, 2010. Running time: 120 MIN.

Cast: Dean - Ryan Gosling Cindy - Michelle Williams Frankie - Faith Wladyka Jerry - John Doman Bobby - Mike Vogel Dr. Feinberg - Ben Shenkman Gramma - Jen Jones Glenda - Maryann Plunkett

More Scene

  • 10 Storytellers to Watch

    Variety Celebrates Inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch Event

    Storytellers from across the spectrum of entertainment — film, literature, podcasting and play writing — were honored Thursday at Variety’s inaugural 10 Storytellers to Watch luncheon at Gramercy Park Hotel, hosted with partner the Independent Filmmaker Project and presented by Audible. Honorees Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, author of “Friday Black”; “Limetown” podcasters Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie; [...]

  • Demi Moore Corporate Animals

    Demi Moore Teases Upcoming Memoir 'Inside Out,' Talks 'Corporate Animals' Team Bonding

    As Demi Moore gears up for the Sept. 24 release of her autobiography “Inside Out,” the actress says she feels like a weight has been lifted. “Even the stuff that I may have been nervous about is completely lifting…because it’s a process,” Moore told Variety at the premiere of her upcoming film “Corporate Animals” at [...]

  • Connie Britton BlogHer Summit

    Connie Britton on ‘Friday Night Lights’ Remake: ‘You Need to Let it Go’

    Connie Britton opened up at a fireside chat Wednesday at the #BlogHer19 Creators Summit in Brooklyn by talking about one of her most beloved roles — Tami Taylor in the fan favorite series “Friday Night Lights.” When asked if a remake of the sports cult film and Emmy-winning TV show is in the works she [...]

  • Mariah Carey Tracee Ellis Ross

    Mariah Carey, Tracee Ellis Ross Celebrate Biracial Heritage at “Mixed-ish” Premiere

    Mariah Carey and Tracee Ellis Ross embraced their “ish” at Tuesday night’s series premiere event for ABC’s “Mixed-ish” by reflecting on how their biracial identity makes working on the new show even more personal. “I’m just so thankful that this show exists,” Carey told the assembled crowd during a Q&A with series creator Kenya Barris. [...]

  • #WorldIsInOurHands Campaign

    Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Joaquin Phoenix And More Join #WorldIsInOurHands Campaign

    At the 44th annual Toronto Film Festival last week, in addition to attending red-carpet premieres and promoting films, some stars also joined in the fight to tackle the climate crisis. Antonio Banderas, Susan Sarandon, Joaquin Phoenix, Rainn Wilson, Rosario Dawson, Neve Campbell and Alfre Woodard are among the bold-faced names to join forces with the [...]

  • Hopper Reserve

    Dennis Hopper's Dying Wish: His Own Strain of Marijuana

    Even as celebrity brands are starting to flood the emerging Cannabis market, Hopper Reserve stands out. The brand was launched by Marin Hopper, Dennis Hopper’s daughter from his marriage to Brooke Hayward. Hopper Reserve is a gram of California indoor-grown flower, two packs of rolling papers, a pair of matches and a trading card either [...]

  • Lowell Smokes Cafe Marijuana

    With Cannabis Lounges, On-Site Consumption, Marijuana-Infused Meals Go Legit

    Can this century’s Roaring ’20s repeat history but with pre-rolled joints instead of whiskey flasks and soccer moms as the new flappers? This month, West Hollywood will see the opening of the nation’s first at least quasi-legal cannabis consumption lounge, officially dubbed Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Café, located at 1211 N. La Brea between Fountain [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content