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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

BLUE VALENTINE -- DVD review by porfle

Love is a battlefield, the poet once said.  And as in most wars, the opponents often don't even know what they're fighting for.  Such is the case in director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance's BLUE VALENTINE (2010), the story of a relationship that goes from love to indifference and finally to outright hostility.  The film, unfortunately, bypasses entertainment altogether and goes straight to outright boredom.

We join the sad dissolution of the marriage between Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) already in progress.  Dean's an unambitious housepainter who's content to be a husband and a father to their cute little daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka), but Cindy, a nurse who once had dreams of becoming a doctor, grows more distant and disillusioned every day.  Mostly she seems to have simply grown tired of Dean, moping as he romps playfully with Frankie and rejecting his romantic advances as though he were the poster boy for bad breath.

Even when Dean books the "Future Room" in a sleazy sex motel so they can have a passionate night together, Cindy's about as sexually yielding as an anchor chain on an aircraft carrier.  Her increasingly hostile attitude drives Dean to drink, which makes her even more hostile toward him.  This vicious cycle is reflected in their maddeningly circuitous dialogue ("You should try thinking about what you say, instead of just saying what you think," she chides for no particular reason), much of which was improvised by the actors.  While this sometimes makes characters' speech sound more natural, here it simply leads to a lot of shaggy-dog dialogue that's as frustratingly pointless for us as it is for Dean and Cindy.

As a counterpoint to their crumbling marriage, we're shown flashbacks of how they met and fell in love ten years earlier.  While helping an old man move into a nursing home, Dean spots Cindy in her elderly Gramma's room and is instantly smitten.  After they meet-cute, he cute-stalks her until she finally gives in, mainly because the jock-jerk she's been having sweaty sex with has knocked her up and dumped her.  But their love is made sweetly manifest during a saccharine sidewalk scene in which he sings and plays the ukelele like Tiny Tim while she tapdances (also improvised for our pleasure).

Along the way we get to hear Dean and his moving company coworker Marshall (Marshall Johnson) having the kind of contemplative, sensitive guy-talk that guys in real life have, like, never, while Cindy's old and wise Gramma offers her the usual quotable soundbites about life and love.  What finally drives Cindy to marry Dean is an unpleasant abortion scene, which itself is aborted by a reluctant Cindy who then reluctantly consents to tie the knot.  Since we already know how ill-fated this marriage is, the whole thing's a downer anyway.

Shot in an informal semi-doc style, BLUE VALENTINE just sort of mopes along from one depressing situation to the next, alternating between Dean and Cindy's sappy love story and the advanced stages of their bitter breakup.  Cindy's iceberg attitude toward Dean is never adequately explained beyond the fact of her free-floating discontent (and vague "grass-is-greener" memories of the dickweed she was banging before she met Dean), with her extreme coldness during their unsuccessful attempt at lovemaking in the "Future Room" coming off as particularly unpleasant.

Dean, on the other hand, is a doormat whose love for Cindy is like a debilitating infection spreading from his heart to his brain.  The scene in which he drunkenly bursts into the clinic where Cindy works and wrecks the place has some dramatic oomph, but after that comes a weepy denouement which doesn't really go anywhere and leaves us with little understanding of these characters or why we've just suffered through all of this unresolved conflict with them. 

The DVD from Anchor Bay is in 1.66:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound and subtitles in English and Spanish.  Extras include a commentary with the director and his co-editor Jim Helton, the featurette "The Making of Blue Valentine", a "home movie" by Gosling, Williams, and their onscreen daughter Faith Wladyka, and some deleted scenes consisting of several minutes of further improv by Gosling and Williams.

BLUE VALENTINE is the kind of relationship flick that separates people into two distinct camps.   Either you're one of those hardy viewers whose temperament allows them to settle in and enjoy this sort of meandering mopefest, or the morose antics of Cindy and Dean will have you grabbing for the remote as your eyes glaze over and clicking away for dear life.

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