Friday, January 14, 2011
Never Judge a Movie by the Trailers
If you have read the reviews for Blue Valentine, you will learn that the story examines the breakdown of a marriage. Nothing new here, but the raw performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give it an edge that is creating some Oscar buzz and getting the movie-going public to fork out their hard-earned cash to sit through their depressing story. I happen to love this type of film that puts a microscope inside a relationship and lets us play voyeur into the lives of some ill-fated couple. The clever devices used to tell the story are of less interest to me than the director's (Derek Cianfrance here) ability to make the story and the characters believable. I struggled a bit with this one. Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) appear from the first scenes in the obvious end stage of their marriage. The director takes us back eventually to the early days of their romance when they first met so we can see how they came together in the first place. What we miss out on here is the middle part of the marriage - the critical part where things start to fall apart and the stage where it may have been possible to still save what was left and rebuild. That is the part I would have added as a director. We all are familiar with the beginning and end of a relationship, not much to learn there. What would be of some benefit to the audience would be the portrayal of the pivotal time in between. That time that is often hard to pinpoint. The time that is crucial for rescue. The part that anyone who has been through a divorce can look back on and recognize in hindsight that is where they should have started counseling or gotten help or at the very least admitted to each other that they were in trouble. I found myself trying to figure it out in the movie. From my perspective, Cindy was unable to accept love from Dean because she grew up with a poor self-image in a home where her own parent's dysfunctional marriage was her only role model. Her father mistreated her mother, psychological abuse from what little we learned in this movie and Cindy did not seem to expect much more for herself. She pushed Gosling away despite his best efforts to romance her but that is not to say he was without his own flaws. His lack of ambition and growing attachment to beer for breakfast, did little to woo her, even though he was an attentive and much loved father to her daughter. He married her knowing she was pregnant with another man's baby. At the time, his heroic gesture was welcomed, but as the years passed, his commitment was apparently not enough to feed her soul. Dean was content to be nothing more than a faithful husband and devoted father - Cindy wanted more. But we never get to see where the tables turned. How far into the relationship did they get before she realized his gallant gesture would not be enough to sustain them? At the time he was Mr. Right. She changed and grew and before long, her white knight looked more like Larry the Loser. They never really got to know each other in the beginning. He was a true romantic, writing her a song, blabbing to his co-worker about his belief in "love at first sight". She was more pragmatic, more of a realist, even though in her vulnerable position she allowed herself to be charmed by his heartfelt gestures. Being a bit of a romantic myself (OK - more than a bit), I couldn't help but relate to Dean. However, he did seem to deteriorate fairly quickly. He was helpless to penetrate her cold and angry demeanor and their complete lack of communication skills was so frustrating to me as an audience member, I wanted to freeze frame and play mediator between them. I expected far more from this film and the trailers for it are very misleading. It is more of a tragedy than a love story and the only scene where I actually felt a bit of bittersweet emotion was the one from the trailer where he plays his ukulele and sings a little song for her while she self-consciously does a little tap dance for him in front of a shop window with an appropriately placed heart wreath. Sweet. As for the acting, no question, both Gosling and Williams were giving it their best shot, and nominations may result, but I don't think either of them will be going home with the golden statue this year. Not yet. Worth a look, but if you have a choice, go see The King's Speech or Black Swan or The Fighter, all three a better bet.