My Blue Valentine
I arrived fashionably late to my date with Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in the movie Blue Valentine, the 2010 romantic drama written and directed by Derek Cianfrance. I missed it in theaters and again on DVD, but wasn’t too let down about it since all I really heard about the film was the hyped up cunnilingus scene. I did know it was a love story of sorts, so after seeing that it was playing on Showtime, I decided it’s worth a shot and recorded it so I could force my husband to watch it with me. If you haven’t seen the movie, please leave now, as I may ruin moments for you.
Ryan Gosling was nearly unrecognizable in the film’s opening; his receding hairline, oversized sunglasses, and somewhat redneckish wardrobe threw me for a loop. Gosling plays Dean, a high school drop-out working as a painter to help support his wife Cindy (Michelle Williams) and their daughter, Frankie. Cindy appears as a frazzled mother trying to successfully juggle home life with her medical career. I was immediately struck by how spot on the depiction was of the family interactions around the breakfast table. In a scene similar to ones I’ve experienced at home, Cindy struggles to keep everyone on schedule as Dean inadvertently works against her and Frankie is simply too caught up in being a kid to care much about getting to school on time. This scene also makes it clear that Cindy and Dean are not in the happiest of marriages.
Through jumps in time, the audience sees their love and marriage in the early stages as it’s built and in the later stages as it crumbles around them. The love story isn’t a typical one, as most of us don’t get together through an unplanned pregnancy, especially when one of the people responsible for said pregnancy isn’t a part of the relationship. Cindy discovers she is pregnant shortly after her and Dean begin to get intimate. Even after a failed abortion attempt and even knowing the child isn’t his, Dean decides his love for Cindy overcomes this obstacle and they marry prior to Cindy giving birth.
Fast forward to now; you can tell both parents love this little girl, but the love Cindy once had for Dean seems to have faded along with his youthful hairline. Dean books a cheesy hotel room called the Future Room in the hopes of rekindling the spark they once had, and I can honestly say that I was quite jealous of this room. However, no matter how camp and fun the atmosphere around the couple was and despite all the alcohol, Cindy was unable to overcome her repulsion for her husband. After a blow-up the next day at Cindy’s job, the marriage seems to have come to an end as Dean walks away and Cindy allows it to happen, all while their daughter sobs in confusion.
The preparation that Williams and Gosling put into this movie is clear as day; their interactions flow as if they had truly been together for years. I’m convinced that the sex scenes were turned into such a big deal due to their realistic tones; the nudity was subtle but the actions were clear and portrayed more honest than any I’ve ever seen, including my limited experiences watching porn. It wasn’t stylized to try to make Williams into a sex goddess, nor did it try to make sex into an artistic act. It kept it simple; young passion fueling it in the beginning, desperation at the end. It’s a shame that it was so hyped up because I feel that putting too much focus on this small part of the film will cause the viewer to miss out on its overall beauty.
It was painfully obvious to me early on that Cindy was no longer in love with Dean. At first I felt she was being distant, but it soon became clear that she had become physically repulsed by her husband. The guy I dated late in my high school years is an idiot, but at 16 he was a heart-throb. I ran into him again sometime in my early 20s and we struck up a friendship. It didn’t take long for him to decide we should give us another shot and for me to decide I wanted to run him over with my car. Not having the blinders of 16-year-old puppy love on, I was able to see his flaws like an open wound and it made my skin crawl when he tried to embrace and kiss me. Luckily for me, this was an easily escapable situation. Cindy, on the other hand, is still married and her husband is desperate to get her to overcome whatever barriers she has raised that results in her rejecting his advances. Watching Williams cringe as if in pain at her husband’s touch hit a nerve in me; I found myself flashing back to failed relationships and finding similarities with them and this film. I honestly don’t see how a relationship is salvageable when one party reaches the point of disgust at the thought or feel of physical contact.
Another touchy subject that is briefly highlighted in the film is infidelity. Cindy’s employer, a decent enough looking doctor, has sent her emails that Dean sees as inappropriate and has suggested that Cindy secure herself an apartment away from her husband and child so the two of them can work together and spend time together. Upon the revelation that this doctor has a hidden agenda, Cindy timidly states that she is married. This is interrupted when an understandably upset Dean enters the office and ends up giving the doctor a much deserved punch to the jaw, but short as it is, it succeeds in raising eyebrows and questions. Would Cindy have resisted the temptation to cross the line for this doctor or would she have remained faithful to a man she no longer loved in order to preserve the sanctity of marriage? I can’t provide an honest answer to this question, but I do think Cindy was drawn to the doctor in both a professional manner and a personal one, and maybe under the right circumstances and in the right situation the line would be ignored. But maybe not.
The final major focus for me is the issue of broken homes. Dean’s mother left his father when he was ten years old, causing him to feel abandoned but allowing his mother to find happiness. Cindy’s parents overcame their differences, mainly her father’s abusive attitude and her mother’s lack of strength in stopping it, and stayed together in a less than happy marriage. I believe these differences in their youth lend to the differences in how they want to approach their marital issues. Cindy wants to cut and run because she knows firsthand what misery and heartache can come from staying together for the sake of the child. Dean wants to do whatever is possible to save the marriage for the sake of Frankie, who shouldn’t know a broken home. It’s hard to give a right answer in this situation because both sides have a valid argument for why their decision is the best one. It’s a decision I hope I never have to face in my lifetime, but one that plagues once-happy families all too often.
The day after watching this film, my husband sent me quite a few reviews that tore it to pieces. Jonathan and Julie Myerson write that “Blue Valentine is simply a film about an abortion that should have gone ahead.” Others put their focus on one line from Gosling’s character where he says he enjoys being a painter because he can have a beer at 8am, taking that to mean the marriage has failed because of Dean’s blinding alcoholism issues. I feel a bit sorry for these people, as the film is so complex and layered and there is so much good and bad that can be taken away from this. Yes, the abortion and the drinking is there and are both factors, but they certainly aren’t the main ones and shouldn’t be the primary focus.
If you have yet to watch this (sorry for spoiling it for you) I urge you to do so. If you didn’t get it the first time around, go watch it again. There are many marks of a great film, and one mark for me is that the film makes you stop and think. Blue Valentine did that for me and then some. It gave me a greater appreciation of the man I have at home and the family we’ve built, the satisfaction of knowing I can’t say he’s not living up to his potential (as Cindy says to Dean), and the comfort of knowing that we have never and hopefully will never have a vacation as awkward and rage-fueled and unsatisfying as Cindy and Dean’s trip to the Future Room.