out of Five
Running time: 114
Impressively directed and superbly written, this is a powerfully emotional relationship drama with terrific performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
What's it all about?
Written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a married couple whose relationship is seemingly drawing to an end, despite the presence of their adorable young daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka). As Cindy reaches the end of her tether with Dean, he stages a last-ditch attempt to rekindle their relationship, but his choice of motel room only serves to make things worse.
Meanwhile, flashbacks reveal the couple in happier times, from their first meeting, through their charming early courtship, overcoming various obstacles involving Cindy's ex (Mike Vogel) and their eventual decision to become a family.
Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are both terrific as Cindy and Dean, brilliantly conveying both the early promise and excitement of new love and the frustration, misery and helplessness of a marriage coming to an end. Cianfrance is particularly good at showing how someone's initially attractive qualities (Dean's creativity) might also be a source of frustration several years later – there's a superbly written scene where Cindy confronts Dean about his wasted potential and he admits that all he wants to do is be a husband and father.
The script is brilliantly written, with several scenes having echoes or parallels throughout both timelines. The accumulative effect of the contrast between the two timelines is powerfully emotional, particularly when you catch a glimpse or an echo of their past happiness in their present; this also makes it all the more devastating when something goes wrong.
The film is packed with great scenes, particularly the chatting up episode on the bus and a wonderful sequence where Cindy dances in a shop doorway as Dean sings and plays 'You Always Hurt The Ones You Love' on a ukulele. There are also several delightfully detailed character touches, such as the eagle-emblazoned jumper that Dean wears or the reason behind Cindy being in a wheelchair for one of her flashback sequences.
On top of this, there's a note-perfect score by Brooklyn based folk rock band Grizzly Bear.
Blue Valentine is a brilliantly directed, superbly written and impeccably acted relationship drama that packs a powerful emotional punch. Highly recommended and one of the undisputed highlights of the London Film Festival.