Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a simple guy, a high school dropout who does just enough to get by and isn’t in possession of a whole lot of ambition. Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a young woman some might categorize as being of a suspect moral nature, but she has a good heart and contrary to Dean this lady has all kinds of lofty ambitions as she is studying to be doctor. It looks to us from our vantage point that both Dean and Cindy are good people. This does not mean that they should’ve gotten married as writer / director Derek Cianfrance examines is his highly emotional drama ‘Blue Valentine’.
The film jumps back and forth from where Dean and Cindy are right now, a couple coming to the end of the marriage and then back to where they started their relationship. Cindy is the more complex character in this equation, coming from a home that is devoid of any kind of warmth or comfort, having a father who we can assume abuses her mother, if not physically then certainly emotionally. It’s even slightly hinted at that this man might have abused Cindy. Thus armed with this knowledge it’s not surprising that Cindy’s current boyfriend Bobby (Mike Vogel) treats Cindy in a manner similar to the way her father treats Cindy’s mother. He has no respect for her, treats her like a possession, and not even a valued possession, and does what he wants to her when he wants.
Dean comes from no home, which when you think about it might be a better home than the one his future wife comes from, Dean has no particular drive as he wanders around taking odd jobs, but Dean is intelligent, he is hard working, and he puts the needs of others before himself.
Then the boy meets the girl, but the girl will not give this boy the time of day. This boy is persistent and stalks this girl a little bit which admittedly is against the law in most states, but the ice around the girls heart is starting to melt somewhat because the boy does have some charm about him. Eventually Dean’s persistence, hard work, good heart and possibly because he’s really good at oral sex wins Dean his much sought after prize. The old boyfriend is none too happy about this and Dean has a price to pay for his prize, and as it turns out Cindy is with child and this child probably isn’t Dean’s but Dean is a good man and does the honorable thing.
The years go on, Dean and Cindy are parents to the world’s most adorable five year old girl Frankie (Faith Wladyka), but it’s not enough. Dean and Cindy didn’t spend enough time getting to know each other during their whirlwind courtship because if they were paying attention they would’ve observed that they are the same people today that they were when they first met. Dean’s lack of ambition and drive isn’t so charming anymore. Cindy’s emotional instability which was cute in a quirky way a few years ago is now just extremely frustrating. Sadly, Dean and Cindy are now just another statistic to throw on the pile.
‘Blue Valentine’ is the kind of movie, at least in my opinion, that is a better movie once you have stepped away from it for a while. Honestly, watching Dean and Cindy’s unavoidable journey to marital destruction was absolutely no fun to sit through and the style in which Cianfrance wrote and assembled his movie, the outcome of this relationship was grim and hopeless from the start.
But as I sit down to assemble my thoughts in an attempt to write something worthwhile about this film, the overall unpleasantness of the exercise has etched itself away and I am left with a film that felt like a very personal and powerful examination of a modern relationship. I’ve often said this about marriage and have even told this to my own wife, but I truly believe, and this is a generalization, but I am of the mind that men marry a woman but women marry a husband. Most men can’t be shoehorned into this ideal, recognizing that this ideal varies from person to person, the woman becomes frustrated, the man doesn’t know what the woman wants and it all falls apart. This concept is vividly played out in ‘Blue Valentine’ with successful couples finding a way to work around each other’s fatal flaws with the rest turning into Dean and Cindy.
Gosling and Williams deliver a pair of authentic, painful performances in which neither character is presented here as the ‘bad guy’, just a couple of people who got married for the wrong reasons, depending on how you look at it. Cindy is with Dean because Dean was the antithesis of Bobby. Dean, at the time, fit into what Cindy felt how a man should be. He had other issues but she saw past those. Dean on the other hand saw a smart, pretty girl and it really goes no deeper than that. She had other issues as well but he was willing to work with those. The man married a woman the woman married an ideal.
‘Blue Valentine’ is a different kind of relationship movie. It’s unpleasant but it is honest, or at least it felt that way. I probably would’ve had more fun watching Matthew McConaughey and Goldie Hawn’s daughter jumping out of airplanes but I would’ve forgotten that movie thirty seconds after leaving the theater. One last thing, if three large angry looking dudes walk up to you and ask ‘Are you (insert name here)?’ please respond with ‘No, but I’ll get him for you’ and then run like hell. Just my advice to you.