The 9 Percent: Honoring Armond White and the Brave Critics Who Panned Blue Valentine

We're a week into the Blue Valentine era, which is thrilling news for me and the eight other film writers in the world -- eight! -- who can't wait to see the grueling, ratings-exploiting, confoundingly overrated Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams dissolving-relationship drama flushed forever down the post-Oscar drain. Only a month and a half to go! Let's meet these valiant souls who have seen through Derek Cianfrance's emo-fascist folly and stand unbowed and unshaken by the stiff gust of superlatives in its wake.

You'll remember Movieline's original review from Sundance 2010, eventually followed by Gosling and Cianfrance's admittedly sporting reaction from Cannes and Stephanie Zacharek's counterpoint on the film last week. And then came this tweet on Tuesday from @BlueVmovie: "With a 93% rating, Blue Valentine is @RottenTomatoes' Certified Fresh Pick of The Week!" That has since dropped to 91 percent, but still! The few, the proud, the nine percent.

And then came today's typically imaginative, astonishing smackdown from Armond White:

Dean [Gosling] and Cindy's [Williams] lustful tug-of-war most resembles the bickering couple Ronnie and Sammi in Jersey Shore: As post adolescents embarked on the privileges and autonomy of adult sexuality, they can't prevent falling in and out of love, lust and forbearance. Like Ronnie and Sammi's backand-forth recriminations, Blue Valentine uses a convoluted narrative, casually folding-in the past and present chronology of Dean and Cindy's story. There are felicitous rhymes: Cindy's abortion recall juxtaposes a memory of tenderness when she and Dean suggest, "Lets make a family." But while this indefinite storytelling seems artful, it offers little insight into average, working-class romantic drudgery. [...]

Gosling doesn't hit Ronnie's perfect note of macho ignorance on Jersey Shore, just acting-class notions of proletarian machismo. Gosling may be aiming for Brando in Last Tango, but he misfires like Edward Norton.

Newcity's Ray Pride joined in this afternoon:

Blue Valentine is a hotdog that thinks it's a world-beating feast. Derek Cianfrance's second feature is a horror movie about American romance, steeped in blue-collar imagery and American flags, performed by two of the most gifted American actors in their thirties. It's drenching, wrenching and false in almost every note not involving Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. [...] The script would be pretty much "Scenes From a Workshop" if it weren't for the two actors. From the very first scene, where the volume slowly rises, a young girl's voice crying out atop a sound bed of crickets, Cianfrance is determined to be over-determined.

We're on to something here: An organized resistance might be necessary. I don't know if a total of 9 people amounts to much of a resistance, but please: Join us! Strength in numbers! And look what other company you'll keep:

· Peter Rainer, Christian Science Monitor: "Watching two of our best young actors go at it for almost two hours ought to be more rewarding than Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a couple falling out and in and in and out of love. [...] The film's time structure is splintered into shards of past and present, which is probably just as well - a strictly narrative chronology would make this wallow seem even sloggier."

· Duane Byrge, Hollywood Reporter: "Starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, this Sundance Film Festival U.S. dramatic competition entrant will stir initial interest based on that pairing, but the grinding regurgitation of the dissolution -- we're sick of this couple long before the film is over -- will stimulate viewers to file(out) for an annulment midway through. [...] The flirty-early days are enlivened by the bounce of a hand-held camera and a vibrant visual pallet, while the death-gurgle days are hardened by a unrelenting succession of close-ups and dim lighting. Ultimately, the heavy-handed and annoyingly obvious aesthetic wears thin."

· Karina Longworth, LA Weekly: "Even when transparently plumbing for depth, Cianfrance's film is frustratingly surface-bound in ways that reflect, if not out-and-out misogyny, then at least a lack of interest in imbuing his female character with the rich interior life and complicated morality he gives his male lead. Cindy is written as a cipher, inexplicably veering from indifferent to Dean to purringly hot for him (and not just him--in an infuriating scene set in a women's clinic, Cianfrance gives us just enough information about Cindy's past to be able to write her off as a tempestuous slut), and then back to uninterested. Williams performs Cindy's enigmatic hot-and-cold routine as blankness. At the film's emotional peaks, Cianfrance's camera assumes Dean's point of view, getting extremely close to the actress as if that's the way to capture the inner life that's invisible to the eyes of both husband and lens."

· Stephen Rea, Philadelphia Inquirer: "Michelle Williams needs to make a movie that doesn't have a dog tragedy in it, and she needs to make a movie where she doesn't look like the weight of the world is crushing her soul. Blue Valentine, an overwrought American indie from writer/director Derek Cianfrance, is not that movie. [...] There's a loose, vérité vibe here, and times when both Williams and Gosling root down deep to deliver something resonant and true. But this modern-day kitchen sink drama (there's even an "I'm so out of love with you" scene right by a kitchen sink) is ultimately too painful, too labored, to care much about at all."

· Brian Orndorf, "Charting the origin and termination of a volatile relationship, "Blue Valentine" elects to carry intense dramatic weight through improvisation, capturing the authenticity of the moment by allowing the actors to feel out the perimeter of their characters. The effect can be wearisome, clouding the intriguing atmosphere of the film, stealing attention away from the fractured essence of the piece so actors can flail about, killing vital intimacy by being so aware of the camera. [...] The actors share chemistry, but Cianfrance is too permissive with the scattered performances, devoting critical screen time to moments of bonding and separation that come across calculated, skipping raw human behavior to stage twee artifice for the camera."

· Richard Roeper, Reelz Channel: "Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are undeniably talented young actors who consistently seek out interesting and challenging material. While the talent is certainly on display in Blue Valentine, the material is challenging mostly to the viewer." Here's the video:

To see it is to love it or hate it, I suppose, which plays right into their hands. But! Now is our hour. Go forth! Fight!


  • Charles says:

    You, sir, are a poor man's Mark Lisanti, and a royal prick.
    I loved this film.

  • Teddy says:

    It's not fair to compare ANYONE to Mark Listanti. You will always be lacking.

  • Tara says:

    I loved the movie, and I love Stu, but that line is great, if not exactly right.

  • KevyB says:

    Where was all this hate-filled glee when Wendy and Lucy was released? Blue Valentine has to be better than spending two hours with that loser.

  • Sean says:

    Really? You're so insecure about your opinion that you have to back it up by pointing to other critics who held a similar view? Dude, you're a critic: if you can't assert your opinion on your own, don't bother.

  • Dude, I did assert my own opinion; that's what the links are for. But here's the Sundance review again:

  • Sean says:

    As well as trolling out. Are you going to make a similar compilation of negative reviews whenever you're in the minority view?

  • S.T. VanAirsdale says:

    No. This isn't about contrarianism for contrarianism's sake. It's about standing up to a film so vile and a groupthink so pervasive that dissent inspires personal attacks like yours and some of those above rather than any qualitative reply. That's because BV is fundamentally indefensible, and the more its devotees are alerted to this -- the more they see themselves having been hoodwinked by a smug, sloppy, condescending piece of filmmaking (and its marketing) that they privately know will not hold up five years (hell, even a year) from now -- the more frustrated their reactions.
    I'll say something about you that you could just as easily turn around and say about me, but we both know it's true because Cianfrance empirically proves it with BV: The harder you try, the dumber you look.

  • Seankgallagher says:

    I can understand not liking the film, even though I personally loved it (for the record, my co-worker agrees with you), but using Karina Longworth and Armond White to bolster your argument? Doesn't really help.

  • blizzard bound says:

    I haven't seen Blue Valentine yet, but this is exactly how I feel about Black Swan. I hated that film and am flabbergasted at the gushing critical response. To me, it is an over-the-top male fantasy of the typical madonna-whore model, with a dash of woman-on-woman sex to top it off.
    No pun intended.
    But I guess that puts me in the .000001% with that movie.

  • Pete Burland says:

    Great article. Waiting for more.