The real world will try to teach us many things. It teaches us that only two things are certain, death and taxes. Unfortunately, one of the things that is not always certain is the wonderful mystery of love. Sometimes, it lasts for a lifetime but more often than not it can be a cruel device and become fleeting. The movie, Blue Valentine deals with this difficult subject and explores one such relationship that is clearly on the ropes.
Frankie (played by Faith Wladyka) screams for her daddy. She yells again. The girl makes her way back to the house and crawls inside using the window. She finds her dad, Dean (played by Ryan Gosling) asleep on the couch. Frankie wakes him and they go outside and we realize that their dog, Meagan is gone. They go back inside and try to wake the mother, Cindy (played by Michelle Williams). She resists but eventually stirs.
The parents seem rather distant and eventually the mom drives little Frankie to school. Cindy by day works for a local doctor while Dean paints people’s houses. Later, Cindy on the way home finds Meagan, dead by the side of the road. She later joins Dean at Frankie’s recital and tells him the bad news. He takes it hard and after the recital they decide to drop their little girl off at their Grandpa Jerry (played by John Doman) for the night.
Right about this time we get a flashback as Dean remembers how he started working for Steinway Moving Company. Flash forward, Dean is burying Meagan. He talks to Cindy and says he wants to go out, get drunk and make love at a themed hotel (“The Future Room”). She reluctantly decides to go along with the idea and soon finds herself at the local Liquor Mart. There she meets an old flame named Bobby Ontario (played by Mike Vogel).
The two of them make pleasantries and he throws in a lewd comment or two and they depart. Soon, Cindy is back in the car and decides to tell Dean about her meeting with Bobby. They get into a huge argument and soon Cindy is pulling off the road. She mentions that she has to go to the bathroom but in reality she is taking time to have her own flashback.
The flashback is set at the same time as Dean’s and goes over her relationship with Bobby but more importantly the time when she first met Dean and the initial connection between the two. Soon, the flashback takes back to the present where Dean and Cindy are entering the future room. Can this one night in fantasy land help these two distant lovers out or will it be the final nail in their relationship?
The first thing one really notices about this film is the honesty of the relationship between Dean and Cindy. It feels one hundred percent real and shows us the harshness of a love relationship that is remembered as something wonderful but then brings us back to the present where it has gone so wrong. This is greatly attributed to the fantastic and open performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.
Both of them do a great job at conveying the ups and downs of such a relationship. Honestly, if I had to choose between the two, I think I was more impressed by Ryan’s portrayal of Dean as one can really see the difference between where he started in the relationship and where he ended up. Michelle certainly echoes this same sentiment but to a lesser degree in my opinion.
As strong as the characters and actors are in this movie, I do think that towards the end of the film, the movie (as many movies do) lost its way. It does such a good job of telling the story of two lovers that it gets buried in the trenches. The ending really speaks for it self and I don’t want to reveal that here but safe to say I think there are going to be people disappointed with it. Truth be told, I’m probably being an old romantic but I wanted just a little more as we closed away to the credits.
The video is presented in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen (not a misprint) in 1080p resolution. The film is shot in a combination of Super 16 for the Dean and Cindy’s initial love scenes and Red One for the present day. It is a wonderful contrast but at the same time does a great job of providing detail and color. The movie looks good from start to finish and one has no problem telling where one flashback starts and ends (besides Ryan’s full head of hair versus a balding one) without using silly gimmicks.
The audio is presented in 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio. As expected, this is a dialog based movie. But what one doesn’t expect is the abundance of environment specific sound effects like trees rustling or the noise of cars driving by. It is welcome (especially in this type of movie) and produces one of the best tracks of this type I have heard in recent memory. Spanish subtitles are also included.
- Automatic Trailers: The Company Men
- Feature Commentary with Director Derek Cianfrance and Co-Editor Jim Helton: A fairly strong commentary here. Derek dominates most of the conversation and even though he is a little artsy, he takes great pleasure in the technical process of the film. There is almost no dead space and is a worthwhile listen.
- Deleted Scenes 19:45: Four sets of scenes are included with an emphasis on an un-credited actor who sits alongside Dean in his vehicle (the name is mentioned in the commentary) as well as a helping of more open and candid scenes between Cindy and Dean. Great stuff here, but a little rough and pretty easy to understand why they hit the cutting room floor.
- The Making of Blue Valentine 13:50: The ole making of featurette. It is worth noting that Michelle Williams is sporting platinum blonde short hair in preparation for her upcoming Marilyn Monroe role in My Week with Marilyn. Good stuff, compliments the audio commentary well but in an easier digestible form.
- Frankie and the Unicorn (home movie) 3:04 : A very cute story with Faith acting as Frankie and Michelle being well the unicorn. Oh and Ryan is the music doctor. It is adorable, we will leave it at that.
One note I certainly want to make is that I had considerable difficulty with the disc. Upon entering the main menu, pressing on any selection would cause the disc to lock up. Now, as many would suggest, I updated my firmware. It worked that day, so naturally I thought that was the trick. Upon the next night when I worked through the extras, the same menu lock up happened. Eventually I got it to work, but again with much difficulty and no rhyme or reason.
As some know, this movie earned a NC-17 film rating the first time around for the act of a man performing oral sex on a woman. The director and others fought for an R rating which they eventually got. To be honest, it is certainly an R film, but nowhere near a NC-17 one. As the director explains and I agree with, it is certainly more of what we think is going on rather than what we are shown. In my personal opinion, a well informed teenager (and some intelligent parents) should have no problem with this movie at all.
The movie is critically acclaimed for many reasons but it mostly comes down to the two central actors, Ryan Goslin and Michelle Williams who both provide a very open and vulnerable look at a relationship from light to dark. It loses steam in the last half hour or so but is an excellent journey of this wondrous thing we call love. The disc is great technically and will provide fans with an excellent disc to watch over and over again. Recommended for sure, but be prepared to leave a little bit uncomfortable.