“Blue Valentine” is the sad story of a relationship in a state of decay. The maggots haven’t arrived, but they’re en route. As we witness the impending train wreck, we are also watching two of the greatest actors deliver performances of a lifetime.
Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) meet in a nursing home, fall in love and get married. On their first date he plays the ukulele and sings, “You Always Hurt the One You Love,” as she dances. The irony is inescapable, because we’ve already caught glimpses via flashbacking of a marriage on the rocks.
Cindy is a nurse whose dream is to become a doctor. Dean’s a house painter who proudly wears his paint stains everywhere. He considers it a “luxury” to have a job where he can start drinking beer at 8 a.m. Therein lies the rub, which eventually turns into a massive open wound.
Writer/director Derek Cianfrance (“Brother Tied”) employs an out-of-sequence format that, at first, seems somewhat confusing. Slyly, he interjects visual clues as to where Dean and Cindy are in their relationship. Paint — or the lack of — on Dean’s body, his thinning hair and clothing items provide the audience with the map needed to navigate this brutally honest film.
It took Cianfrance 12 years to make “Blue Valentine.” One setback was the tragic passing of Heath Ledger (Williams’ former partner and father of her daughter) in 2008. Another was having been slapped with an NC-17 rating for a “graphic” sex scene. Given the gratuitous, gory violence perpetrated in films today, I found it appalling that this beautifully shot masterpiece would receive the box office killer rating. Thankfully, wisdom prevailed, and it was rescinded.
It took two weeks for Williams (nominated for a Best Actress Oscar this year) to remove her character’s wedding ring after the film wrapped. That gesture speaks volumes about how enmeshed she was into Cindy’s skin. “Blue Valentine” is not only an intelligent essay about the demise of love — it’s a monumental display of profound acting.