Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Blue Valentine (2010) - Such an honest and genuine depiction of a changing relationship

Viewing Context:
Good old parents did a spot of babysitting so me and Tasha could see it together down at the Media Museum’s Cubby Broccoli cinema.

Written and directed by Derek Cianfranco who is more prolific as documentary filmmaker, which may explain why this film so vividly captures what appears to be reality in these characters (not that documentary equals real; just that the aesthetic invokes a genuine sentiment). He was assisted in writing by Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis. Curtis also worked on Cianfranco’s first narrative feature, Brother Tied.

What Happened:
The film opens showing the strained and struggling married life of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams). The film then intermittently moves between this present and the charming story of how they first met and fell in love, steadily revealing the details of this realistically complex relationship.

What I liked:
Honest: The whole thing was a genuine look at married life. It was not harrowing and relentless, nor was it Hollywood convenient; it was just very honest and thus had me completely convinced and invested in the characters.
The close up: It is rare that I specifically point out a technique or particular shot, but I thought that the close up really capitalised on the tremendous performances from both leads. Their face filled the screen so frequently that every inch of them, the tiniest expression, had to be perfectly in character. It had to be subtle and - that word again - genuine.
Steady drip of information: The pace at which the information was given to the viewer heightened the drama and made the big picture steadily clearer (though never too conveniently clear, a la some Hollywood rom-com with a perfectly contained and sealed off narrative). I use the term ‘drip of information’ because the film stays away from the big reveal. It doesn’t play that game with the viewer, where one thing changes the whole dynamic; rather, it is constantly changing each time the story fills in a little more of their initial meeting and a little more of their current life.

Missed opportunities:
It had me all the way through and I can't say I would change a great deal about it.

Well I'm usually more well suited to reading myth in pop culture or socio-political allegory in genre films so it's hard for me to write in the same way about something so mature, measured and nuanced, but some of the impressions I got from the film are below.
Complexity of real relationships: Relationships are more complex than Hollywood would have you believe. An addition to this is that there are no right or wrong ways to deal with the breakdown of a family unit. Both characters have different opinions on what may be best for their daughter, but the viewer is left to make up their own mind on which is right. I know I believe one way, but I know others who would strongly disagree.
Time changes people: Just because things are a certain way at a certain time, doesn't mean that they always will be. This doesn't have to feature any kind of irreversible moment that irrevocably changes a situation, as is the usual plot device. Just time changing people and steadily eroding a relationship, which may have been right at a time; hence, the 'steady drip of information' approach that the narrative utilises.
Suppressed feelings don't go away: Missed opportunities, tiny life choices or minor issues, if suppressed and not properly addressed for years on end, do not simply go away; they manifest in resentment and a serious inability to connect with those who you may have projected the blame onto.
Pretty girls are crazy: Dean at one point in the younger side to the story remarks that pretty girls are crazy. The film, though making light of this comment as one of the character's eccentricities goes some way to attempting to justify what he says. One thing in particular that feeds into this is how Cindy is repeatedly viewed more as a sexual object by members of the supporting cast, rather than as an individual in her own right (this is at its most poignant with the doctor at her work). It isn't done in an overly leery way, but in quite an unfortunately natural way (unfortunate that this happens all too frequently). This must have some kind of effect on her ability to form connections and platonic relationships.

Best Scene:
The features that make this film so good are the close ups, the documentary aesthetic and the perfectly subtle and convincing performances. All these things are at their best in the scene set in the abortion clinic. These features, along with the personal investment in the characters and the intensity of the scene really sum up what this film does well.

Best Performance:
This one's a tough one. By intermittently switching between the two time periods, it was very apparent how complex a performance both needed to put in, in order to account for those subtle changes, whilst still being essentially the same person. I would say Williams just about edges it because her character was a little less alive and therefore had to be much more underplayed. It's still ridiculous that Gosling wasn't Oscar nominated though.

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