Monday, February 14, 2011

Review: Blue Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day, suckers.  I hope you’re having a productive day so far.  While it’s true that there is no Mrs. Beta for me to celebrate the day with that also means I don’t have to spend tons of money on gifts and restaurant bills or fight the huge crowds at dinnertime; don’t feel bad for me, I’ll be alright.  But in the spirit of romance I’ve decided to review a film about love, though I highly suggestion you avoid taking your sweetheart to see it on a date.
Blue Valentine is an independent movie that premiered at the 26th Sundance Film Festival but didn’t get a wide release until the following December.  It’s known for two things right now: 1) Michelle Williams was nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film (For Best Actress) and 2) the film was briefly rated NC-17 because it was just too darn sexy.  The Weinstein Company managed to get a lower R rating without having to make any cuts so anyone who was aching for a scene with Williams having oral sex performed on her will no doubt be pleased that they can to the theater without feeling like a creepy weirdo.  What’s up with that anyway? I swear to God that I’ve never seen such stuff in movies my whole life and now between this flick and Black Swan I feel like I’ve entered some sort of frightening Golden Age of Simulated Cinema Cunnilingus.  I for one felt pretty damn awkward as I and the only other people in the theater, an elderly couple, sat around looking at all the deviant sexual activity.  Good movie, though.
Full review after the jump.
The movie focuses on Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), a young couple.  The narrative switches back and forth between their initial meeting and journey into falling in love and several years later when they are long married, have a daughter, and not doing so well love-wise.
Aww, they have no idea it all goes to shit
So the most important thing about this film is the fact that it switches between when Cindy and Dean were young, dumb, and in love and the present where they’re not so young, Dean is still as dumb, and the honeymoon appears to be long over.  Now this is in theory a cool structure for a story; the love story portion of the film is something of a foregone conclusion based on what we know about the characters in the present, but the HOW is slowly told over the course of the movie and it becomes increasingly detailed and heartbreaking as we get closer to the conclusion.  “Heartbreaking” is actually a pretty good description for this flick.  If you go to the movies in order to have a good time, feel good and escape from the drudgery of real life than you will want to avoid this movie for the rest of your life.  The couple’s relationship in the present is a painfully realistic portrayal of people who have become cynical shells and are just going through the motions.  But then we’ll suddenly be in the past and see them as bright eyed romantics whose love for each other is clear, sweet, and adorable.  All that does is make the present even more heart wrenching.  While we see them getting closer we also see them drifting part.  It’s almost as if the movie is telling me that love is great until it stops…and it will stop sooner or later.  Then life will become bland and hopeless.  Hurray?  If you’ve read this blog in the past you know that I’m something of a hopeless romantic.  When it comes to romance I’m an optimist and I enjoy seeing idealized interpretation in fiction and while this is all certainly well written it’s not really my cup of tea.  One moment in particular that really stung me was during the credits where rather than music being played it instead rolls the audio from an earlier scene in the film which depicts probably the couple's happiest moment in order to rub salt in the wound caused by the ending.  Damn that’s cold.
The acting is pretty good here as Williams and Gosling are basically playing two different roles each.  The fact is however that Williams is AWESOME in this movie.  She plays both versions of Cindy perfectly; the younger one is idealistic, cute, and naïve while the older one is sad, cynical and tired and Williams really makes every aspect of both versions seem real.  This is a range you rarely see in one movie and I think she’s proven that she may be one of Hollywood’s best actors here.  Seriously, the most emotional parts of this film are when we see the smiling, pretty Cindy as a younger girl suddenly switching to the same character, the same actor, now drunk and bitter in a love motel.  Gosling is good as well but I think young Dean and older Dean are actually very similar to each other, which is really one f the major conflicts in the movie; the fact that Dean hasn’t grown up, really.  And sure Gosling is great as Dean but the changes between the two versions aren’t nearly as jarring, and therefore not as much emotionally impactful, as with Cindy.  That all said I’m unhappy to report that I find a lot of young Dean’s thought about love and romance match my own (Though I’m sure I’m much, much smarter) and so now I’m worried that I’m doomed to be a balding drunk who annoys his wife all the time.  Aaand now I’ve depressed myself.
Another interesting thing about this movie is that difference in camera between the present and the past.  In the present the camera is steady and pretty much the way you’d expect a smaller budget film to be shot.  Nothing fancy but still professional to be sure.  In the past it looks as if it’s being filmed with a camcorder.  It’s fuzzy and shaky and kind of unpleasant.  At least at one point I felt like I was getting motion sickness in the theater.  Take in mind that I was not among those who felt that way upon seeing Cloverfield, so I suspect its much worse here.
Reason #82 to learn how to play the ukulele
If you watched Love and Other Drugs and thought that was a really good movie then you’ll likely dislike this one.  This is not a typical love story and chances are you’ll leave the theater feeling depressed, much like I did.  But there’s some really fantastic acting to be found here.  I think Michelle Williams Oscar nomination is well earned and I’m a actively rooting for her victory.  Bottom line is that this is a really good look at what it is to be in love without any of the frills of a typical Hollywood movie.  It feels raw and it feels real so, as a result, it feels sad.  But that you can feel something is an indication of the quality.  If you like film as art, not just as a fun time sink, this movie is well worth your time.  Had I seen this movie before I made my Top Ten of 2010 list last month I likely would have ranked it high on the list.  I may have to update it sometime he near future.
I give Blue Valentine 4 out of 5 Adorable Pandas.
Pros
- Michelle Williams is really great here
-The narrative feels fresh
-A realistic look of the rise an d fall of a relationship
Cons
-Rather depressing
-Shaky camera made me ill

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