Blue Valentine Review: When Emo-Fascists Attack

Among the most anticipated titles of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival -- as well as one of its most haunted, troubled productions -- the Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams relationship saga Blue Valentine finally reached the screen at Sunday afternoon's world premiere. Twelve years in the making, director Derek Cianfrance's film endured more stops, starts and development hiccups than perhaps any other in the festival competition. I desperately wanted to like it. Alas, there could be no more screeching halt than the plotless, indulgent, grueling, indier-than-thou melodrama that ensued after the lights went down.

[Spoilers follow]

Cianfrance first came to Sundance in 1998 with his feature debut Brothers Tied, a striking, modulated drama that would be the director's last until arriving this year with Valentine. Part of the hold-up was its conceptual ambition; a deeply personal story based in part on his own experience with divorced parents, the tale of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) contrasts the present-day pit of their marriage with flashbacks depicting the couple's early romance and the seeds that precipitated its downfall. The approach presents one of the Sundanciest of clichés (last year alone featured such disjointed love stories as Peter and Vandy and (500) Days of Summer), but nothing so insurmountable that it must alienate the viewer by default. And in fact, with actors as gifted, smart and fearless as Gosling and Williams on the scene, Blue Valentine seemed a can't-lose proposition once it finally got rolling.

Except Valentine never does get rolling. To the contrary, it squeals and belches and stalls time and again, scene after scene, held hostage by Cianfrance's lack of discipline and Gosling's surfeit of self-satisfaction. Poor Williams occupies the base of this top-heavy creative triangle, once again playing the topless victim and struggling to anchor the boys' brooding as it stagnates and rots into the present day. Indeed, her Cindy represents the lone ambition in the story itself. When we meet her in rural Pennsylvania, she's a flustered mother and wife; her husband Dean is no more mature than their 5-year-old daughter. Cindy's distance from him is evident in her virtual allergy to eye contact and her haste to flee to work, where she's a nurse for a slimy doctor urging her to take a newer, better job out of town. The suggestions glance off Williams's shellshocked face -- one reflecting the acceptance if not quite the understanding of how she ever got to this point.

After all, in better days she was a good-hearted college student with a lousy boyfriend and strict parents who finds romantic rescue in the arms of the very same Dean, a high-school dropout who lavishes her with marble-mouthed entreaties and other sloppy charms. It takes another impossibly chance meet-cute on a city bus before she succumbs to him, however -- or rather him and his ukelele, which Dean strums as Cindy dances in an impromptu musical number that helps Cianfrance mark "twee" off his Sundance qualifications checklist.

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  • Bob says:

    Here we go again. The perfect example of a review that makes me hate critics.
    Anytime I read a review such as this one, I know I will like the movie. What a bitter, pissy, over-exaggerator! You can't just come out and say you didn't like it and give clear, thoughtful reasons why - you have to be all dramatic and sling around made-up, bullshit, meaningless phrases like "emo-fascist." Seriously?!?
    Here is my suggestion to you - be a professional. You'll get less shock-based reader traffic, but you'll survive longer in the critic business. Nobody with an ounce of brains can take a review like this seriously. It's the opposite of the "I love this movie because Ryan Gosling is hot!" brand of review, but it is no more meaningful or credible. Is there a personal vendetta hidden somewhere here?
    Another thought: Try putting yourself out there for critical bashing. Create something, then let the Skeksis out there in critic land have at it. You might have a more thoughtful approach next time you give your two cents on the product of somebody's heart and soul.

  • Daft Clown says:

    It's just that age-old emaciated Michelin Man falls for albino lumberjack story all over again.

  • qwerty says:

    I have exactly one ounce of brains, and I took this review seriously.

  • dbert says:

    I saw the premiere and agree with the critic. I stopped caring about the movie half-way through. My conclusion as to why though is the opposite of his. Williams and Goseling gave great performances. However, from my perspective William's character was given next to nothing to work with in the script. This made her come off as an opportunistic user. We never get to see how or why she gets to the place she is at the end of the movie. In any event, huge disappointment no matter how it is sliced. Shame, really.

  • xavier ravin says:

    I hate this critic.

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  • nom says:

    I disliked this film a lot. The acting was good in parts, but very uneven and really quite bad in parts. The plot was melodramatic, very depressing. There was a brutality in the sexuality and other areas which was completely unappealing with nothing really redeeming in the film to make us want to sit through it - I nearly left for good and did at one point to get a drink. It does not show people in a good light at all. This film represents another part in the dumbing down of America, film and the loss of the poetic.

  • Ryan says:

    I just saw the film and I have to disagree. This is probably one of the most emotionally authentic movies I've seen in a while. The dialogue wasn't contrived where what they say had to build on the story, but more so the emotions the characters were describing. I think the majority of people who didn't like blue valentine, enjoy romantic comedies like how to lose a guy in 10 days or something.

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