The Best Movie Critic + review

Denver Film Festival Review
Blue Valentine

Whether uplifting or depressing, there are few great movies that are not a joy to watch. Even remorselessly bleak movies like There Will Be Blood or The Bicycle Thief are breathless in their audacity and execution. Blue Valentine plods through the muck, but it does not have that audacity. Despite winning performances from its two leads, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, Blue Valentine drags us through the most difficult moments in a relationship for no perceptible reason. Or if there is a reason, it is so precociously "indie" it makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall.

In Blue Valentine, Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) are going through a rough patch in their relationship. Dean drinks too much and has no ambition, but is really good to their kid. Cindy is working on a medical career, but is growing distant from Dean; she avoids telling him that her boss has offered her a position in a new town. Both of them make some attempt at working to fix the relationship - Dean more than Cindy - but neither of them are particularly level headed or graceful. Blue Valentine then makes the brain dead indie cliché move of intercutting this storyline with a flashback story showing Dean and Cindy's courtship. I don't think it warrants a spoiler warning to reveal the the 'in the past' storyline obviously climaxes with their marriage at the same time the present day storyline sees their marriage dissolving. It's, uh, "poignant and moving."

Blue Valentine cynically portrays relationships as a war between opposing partners. This is in and of itself an interesting theme, I suppose, but is done without any spark of life here. Everything from the cinematography to the script to the score made up of Grizzly Bear songs gears this movie toward sentimentalism. Grizzly Bear have been amongst the most reliably interesting and innovative indie pop musicians of the last few years. It’s a shame that their songs are used exclusively for emotional manipulation here.

The flippant combination of sentimentality with an undercurrent of emotional and sexual violence leaves the viewer with a disturbingly twisted world wrapped up in a comfortable indie bow. I have to make this totally clear: I’m not at all against a movie exploring dark subject matter or twisted relationships. What I can’t stomach is a movie expecting me to think it’s cute, and trying to make me swallow the "precious moments." Blue Valentine is a Hallmark card from relationship hell.

If you want to see a movie that explores the darker corners of long-term relationships, the sadness, laughter, forgiveness, and grace, please, please, please watch The Kids are All Right instead. Or Rabbit Hole. Blue Valentine is the classic Oscar-bait version of "real life" in all it’s gritty, unsavory detail. Except that I would hate these people in real life too. I hope somebody’s mind is blown by how "real" Blue Valentine is. Mine wasn’t.

-Ben

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