Blue Valentine tells a simple story of a marriage: how Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) meet, experience that thrill of infatuation … and how, years later, that thrill stagnates and calcifies as their relationship is on the precipice of collapse. It’s a drama, but it avoids easy dramatic clichés like tragic accidents, disease or misunderstandings.
The fim’s loose, messy cinematography suits the story’s shagginess, and helps to convince you that Williams and Gosling are just lower-middle class folks. Director Derek Cianfrance respects the audience’s intelligence when constructing the film, cross-cutting confidently between the present and past without obvious signifiers. The dialogue, unfortunately, doesn’t always demonstrate the same respect; numerous scenes are marred by characters blatantly stating the purpose/theme of the scene (eg when a doctor at her work awkwardly comes on to her, Williams quietly comments, “I thought you wanted me there because I’m good at my job…” Yeah, we get it).
Fundamentally, Blue Valentine is an actor’s movie; Gosling and especially Williams do an excellent job at living their characters – whether it’s their giddy delight of first love or the frustrated weariness of an expired partnership – and their performances are the best reason to see the film.