Popcorn rating: 4/5
Every now and then a love story comes along capable of cracking open even the hardest of hearts. It does this, not with longing looks and expensive shoes, nor perfectly coiffed stars squabbling sexily before falling into bed. No. It wins us over simply by telling a story that achives the perfect duality – a piece of fiction that somehow feels just like life. That is Blue Valentine.
A tale in two parts, Blue Valentine carefully intertwines the break-up of a marriage with the bittersweet memories of first love.
A pretty girl (Michelle Williams) who seems, somehow, broken, and a boy (Ryan Gosling) on minimum wage, come together not in a whirlwind flash of love but in a subtle, sweet enfolding of two into one. And, as we see their love blossom, we share in those soft moments, a lost couple simply holding one another, uncovering little nothing secrets, tentatively offering a lifeline.
Cloying? Strangely, no. Life in Blue Valentine is too slow moving, too painstakingly real for that.
For this is the story of a couple falling out of love, charting their evolution over a period of years as they become swallowed up in the mundanity of survival, become disillusioned and distant. A worn out wife who wants more from this life and a husband happy he can knock back a beer at 8 in the morning and still go to work. Love, after all, doesn’t last.
The lynchpin of all is, simply, one night which sees the couple heading off for a romantic getaway, an attempt to return to what they once felt, to save a marriage already crumbling. These scenes, packed full of tension, unspoken disappointment, are the beating heart of the piece, the centre around which memories circle like wolves.
The success of Blue Valentine and, indeed, testament to the unerring excellence of both Gosling and Ryan, is that you not only care about this couple as a whole but that you feel enough about each as individuals to understand why they act as they do, to not judge.
Blue Valentine isn’t perfect. It has a tendency to portray men in a poor light (the doctor’s overtures seem unnecessary) and, my biggest gripe of all, would anyone trying to save their marriage, really closet themselves for a night in such a depressingly hideous room? Couldn’t they have even gone out to eat? For a walk even?
Flaws aside, this is a film which could easily sink into the mire of melancholia and cliche, yet never does. Instead we are offered a bittersweet and compelling glimpse into another’s life. Well worth watching.