Film Review: Rise and fall of a marriage in 'Blue Valentine'

Michelle Williams is convincing, and Ryan Gosling is self-indulgent, in 'Blue Valentine,' a story of ill-fated romance.

The Weinstein Company

Michelle Williams is convincing, and Ryan Gosling is self-indulgent, in "Blue Valentine," a story of ill-fated romance.

"Blue Valentine" was nominated for an Oscar this week for Best Actress (Michelle Williams).

During a particularly depressing episode in "Blue Valentine," Cindy (Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams) and Dean (Oscar-overlooked Ryan Gosling) make a doomed attempt to patch up their fractured marriage with an overnight visit to the ironically named, sci-fi-themed "Future Room" of an adult motel. The back-and-forth-in-time montage that ensues includes the sex act that earned "Blue Valentine" an NC-17 rating, even though this unshocking act also is portrayed, with varying degrees of graphicness, in such recent R-rated films as "Black Swan," "Greenberg" and "The Kids Are All Right."

A complex portrait of a contemporary American marriage, "Blue Valentine" tells the story of David and Cindy, a couple who have been together for several ...

Rating: R On Appeal: for strong graphic sexual content, language, and a beating

Length: 114 minutes

Released: December 29, 2010 NY/LA

Cast: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Mike Vogel, Reila Aphrodite, John Doman

Director: Derek Cianfrance

Writer: Derek Cianfrance, Cami Delavigne, Joey Curtis

More info and showtimes »

The unjust rating (reduced to an R on appeal) testifies to the disturbing impact of "Blue Valentine," a movie that has gotten under many viewers' skins, despite the inauthenticity of the co-lead performance by Gosling, whose acting can be seen from a mile away -- he seems to be portraying a slumming "method" actor who's only pretending to be a husband/housepainter. In contrast, Williams is natural and convincing as a nurse and wife who is frustrated by having to mother a grownup, underachieving "kid" along with her young daughter (Faith Wladyka, a charming scene-stealer).

Directed and co-written by Derek Cianfrance, "Blue Valentine" is a chronologically fractured portrait of the rise and collapse of a youthful, working-class romance and marriage. The structure ensures that the film is downbeat from the start, but I'm not sure this immediate acknowledgment of the frequent failure of first love is as "honest" as the filmmakers think it is. The cutting is frequently contrived and obvious: The happy, hopeful smooches of the newlywed couple are juxtaposed with the sad, desperate kisses of their breakup, and an unamusingly rough attempt at sex is contrasted with the genuine playfulness of an earlier coupling.

"How do you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?" says Cindy, likely speaking for all of us, at some time in our lives. Dean expresses another sad truth, when he strums his ukulele and nasally sings: "You Always Hurt the One You Love."

Largely improvised and shot in a semidocumentary style, the movie is more effective when it doesn't entirely indulge its stars. As the older husband in the breakup scenes, Gosling -- one senses he might have picked his own look -- sports a creepy combination of mustache, soul patch and aviator glasses that suggests he's still channeling his psycho-murderer husband role from "All Good Things." He gets to blur the line between performer and character by play-acting and adopting an irresponsible hipster-cool attitude; he smokes cigarettes, punches chain-link fences in anger and listens to The Dirtbombs while his wife is shown listening to Pat Benatar.

Williams/Cindy, meanwhile, has to fight for his/our attention while also being the "adult" of the pair, which makes her something of a pill, in Dean's eyes. Still, she gets what may be the movie's key moment, and it's one that seems scripted: She tells a tasteless joke about a child molester that concludes with the punchline "You think you're scared, kid? I gotta walk out of here alone." Walking alone through the darkness is what "Blue Valentine" is all about.

"Blue Valentine" is at the Malco Paradiso and Cordova Cinema.

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