Tuesday, January 11, 2011

You Always Hurt the Ones You Love

In the absolutely devastating film Blue Valentine, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play Dean and Cindy, a couple whose marriage is on the rocks (to put it mildly). Over the course of the movie, we see in flashbacks how the couple met and fell in love — it's this juxtaposition that pretty much defines the expression "the gamut of emotions." Blue Valentine is a love story gone wrong, and at its center are two excellent, award-worthy performances by Gosling and Williams. They help make this a very impressive film.

Dean and Cindy's relationship began with a case of love at first sight — for him more than for her. But Dean charms Cindy, and wins her over. We see part of that, in a truly sweet scene where he performs a goofy-sounding version of "You Only Hurt the Ones You Love" while playing ukulele, and while she dances along. (The scene makes up the basis of the film's great trailer.) We only get glimpses of how the relationship turned sour, but flash-forward six years and the couple is past the brink. He may still love her, but it's clear she's done.

Blue Valentine treats its subject with real honesty. There's no line-reading going on here — all the dialogue was improvised — and that helps to give everything a more natural, from-the-heart quality. It also helps to make Gosling and Williams' already moving performances even more notable. Like their characters, these two actors are flying without a net, and when, at film's end, the two go their separate ways (not a spoiler), it may be for the best, but you still feel sad that what started out as a promising romance ultimately crashed and burned. Thankfully, the film itself doesn't suffer the same fate. I'm giving Blue Valentine an A–.



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