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I am going to soap box it here for a second. The MPAA (those fine folk
who decide what rating a film will receive) ticks me off to no end.
Their system feels arbitrary, outdated, and stupid. You can only use
the "F" word once in the non literal sense and maintain a PG-13 rating.
Because that's the problem, kids hearing the "f" word too many times.
For want of any other description, it is terribly stupid.
Why do I bring this up? Well, because the film I watched tonight, a powerful and incredibly touching film has been assigned an NC-17 rating for a sex scene that is not erotic, not violent, not disturbing. It is graphic, but more that that it is sad. Really sad. I'll talk more about this later, but the idea that we have a system that gives "The Human Centipede," "Hostel 1&2″ and all of the "Saw" movies an R rating without a second thought gives this film an NC-17 stuns me. I honestly cannot make sense of it. This is a beautiful, touching, and wonderfully authentic film that deserves a shot at release. There is no logical way a reasonable human being could say that this is less appropriate for a teenager than any of those listed above. For some reason we think graphic torture is fine, but sex and nudity will be the downfall of us all.
My favorite poem is T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." I've always identified with it and I think it is one of the finest pieces of writing ever produced. Specifically I am enamored with the line, "Shall I, after tea and cake and ices have the strength to force the situation to its crisis." This describes a situation most of us have been in. You're in a relationship that is failing, you know it's failing, the other person knows, your friends know, but it just hasn't reached that crisis point that forces it to end. That is what this film is about.
Most films center on the beginnings of a relationship (the honeymoon), the middle (where things have reached a comfort point), or the divorce proceedings, but you rarely get the moment when the relationship dies. It's hard to present well and it's difficult to watch. This is what happens when the things that were once funny and cute aren't funny or cute anymore. We've all been there and it is painful.
If you think of a relationship as having a life then Blue Valentine is that life at the moment of death where the life that is dying flashes in front of your eyes. There is a combination of present time and flashback showing how these two people came together and how the inevitably fell apart.
Gossling and Williams are both superb in this film. He plays all the clumsy sweetness and frustration of Dean perfectly, and she plays the damage and need to be loved with a quiet power that is absent from most performances today.
These are two people with a very idealized and romanticized view of love. They view it as something that is there or it isn't. From their backgrounds it is obvious why. Neither of them has any exposure to a couple working at it, tending to the relationship. Things are good, then they aren't. Williams character says early on, "How can you trust your feelings when they can just disappear like that?" That is a question that has plagued people as long as there have been relationships. At some point your feelings will change and if you are unequipped to change and grow with them, then any relationship is destined to fail.
The two stories (falling in love and falling apart) are told in intersecting circles. You see the beginning of the end, then you see how they meet, you see the relationship deteriorate further, then you see their amazing first date. This style allows you to see how they fell in love with each other, but also showed the lack of foundation the ultimately doomed them. Through most of the film it is obvious that the only reason they stayed together as long as they did is because of their daughter, and their absolute love for her.
Gosling as the devoted, hard working father is touching, Williams as the overworked mother who seems to be raising her husband along with her daughter is touching. The dynamic of goofy, doting father, and concerned, loving mother is brilliantly played, and creates some genuinely sweet and heartbreaking moments.
This is not an easy movie to watch. It's quite brutal, emotionally, at times. The scene that earned the NC-17 is quite graphic. The two go away to a romantic hotel for a night to try and rediscover something, and end up in a graphic sex scene that is just hard to watch. It's not as graphic as say "Monsters Ball," but there is a resistance by Williams, followed by a resignation, she doesn't want to, but she'll do it. It isn't violent, it isn't a glamorized rape scene, it's hard to watch because it's just so sad. There is no way to deny that this is the death of the relationship embodied in a single moment. He is still infatuated with her, but she has moved on and there isn't any of the old spark left.
While I did enjoy this film it is most definitely not something I would watch often. It is good enough to deserve another view or two, but it is just to heartbreaking. This script went through 66 drafts over 12 years and it shows in the attention to detail, the brilliant pacing, and the way it allows a look and silence to speak volumes. This is a well acted, solidly written and directed film that is well worth at least one viewing, just be aware that it won't be an entirely pleasant experience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I came away from this film more wary of love and relationships than any
film I've ever seen. You look at Dean's character (Gosling's best role
to-date) and wonder what it is that he did wrong. He fell for a
beautiful, young woman (Williams), stepped-up to care for her and her
yet-unborn daughter, and shifted his life to focus entirely on being a
good husband and father. He was so charming in his interactions with
his daughter, and was also loving towards his wife enduring more
rejection from her than most could, trying to breathe love back into
the relationship. Even his outbursts seemed attempts to give her what
So many reviews talk about this being a story of falling in and out of love. My response is surely subjective, but I don't feel Cindy ever loved Dean. She was desperate, pregnant and facing life as a young parent, and Dean was there to hold her. As a mother and wife, I found her to be unlikeable and selfish, cold and unloving. Cindy was probably not intentionally manipulative, but from her initial reluctance to tell Dean about her pregnancy, to her secrecy around her job offer or the encounter in the grocery store, these are all subtle manipulations and lies, hiding the truth (and her true self) from Dean.
I heard the director say he was sympathetic to both characters. Any sympathy I had for Cindy as a young woman caught in a relationship and family she did not hope for was overshadowed by the fact that she made the choices that led her there, and dragged others in with her. I did not sense any growth in her character to indicate she'd move on to create a brighter future for herself and Frankie.
Dean, on the other hand, was a good person, eager to love, and all-too-willing to devote his life to Cindy and daughter Frankie (a sparse, but strong, performance by Faith Wladyka), and in the end, he's left with a broken heart and a broken home. I'd love to feel he's better-off without Cindy, if only it weren't so heartbreakingly clear that he loves her and her daughter immensely.
To me, the film served as a warning in love to be careful where you put your energy.
No matter what else is yet to be released, you will not see two better
performances this year than Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
It's almost impossible to imagine anyone in anything coming close. In the defensive, aggressive way he turns every line of dialogue around on the speaker as a hidden affront to his insecurities, Gosling reminded me of no less than De Niro in Raging Bull as the older Dean. Playing the younger version, he channels the charm, romanticism, and recklessness of a 1960s Paul Newman.
Williams, who has emerged as the best American actress 30 and under, pulls off a performance that recalls Gena Rowlands' work with Cassavettes. Which is not to say either is an imitation, they aren't "doing method" or aping the authenticity of previous greats. They're 100% the real deal, so good you can only compare them to the best, and they fully embody these characters in every frame. They made me believe, they made me care, they broke my heart.
The story is a familiar one because it's the most common source of drama in life and art but avoids cliché and instead handles the subject with uncommon insight and grace. The lack of context scene-to-scene keeps the audience engaged and on their feet, filling in the intentional holes with their own experience and lending the film a universal relatability. In good times and bad, we can recognize our own triumphs and failures in love. It captures the joyous highs and devastating lows of relationships better than anything I can recall. Gosling singing while Williams tap dances, what she reveals to Gosling on the bridge and how he reacts, the scene in the doctor's office towards the end... they achieve that sense of cinematic transcendence so rare these days. They simply don't craft scenes like this or give actors roles this fully realized in Hollywood anymore.
It's clear this was a labor of love for all involved and it paid off in spades. This is the best American film I've seen this year.
Director Derek Cianfrance may wish to stop wasting his talent on TV and
make films his full time occupation. Cinema could use him. His 'Blue
Valentine' studies the breakdown of a marriage through beautiful and
heartbreaking juxtaposed scenes of past joy and optimism with present
scenes of misery and depression. Flitting back and forth in the
marriage, it asks: Is romantic love the ultimate form of masochism?
Fine young actors Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play Dean and Cindy, who unite through a dogged courtship. Dean is easy-going, happy-go-lucky and content in his removal and packing company. He is chary of formal education, but has a philosopher's outlook. Cindy is sexually over-active and, although occasionally frolicsome, is more mature than Dean. About five years on, romance becomes repulsion, and their marriage becomes one of inconvenience.
Make no mistake, this is uncomfortable viewing not the sex, which serves the story quite well but the paranoia, pettiness and pugnacity in the couple's interaction. They reach their nadir when he practically begs for affection, and she pleads with him to be more ambitious.
No two actors have complemented each other this well for some time. In an age where vapid acting is vogue, Gosling is a novelty. He is very charming, yet he has a mournful countenance, and possesses a James Dean-like vulnerability. He'd be my poster-on-the-wall if I were 13.
I can't get that entrancing scene where Dean serenades Cindy out of my head. Dean's philosophical outpourings may be interpreted by some as drivel, but more sensitive viewers will detect the shattering honesty. A memorable maxim: 'Girls spend their whole life looking for Prince Charming and then marry the guy who's got a good job and is gunna stick around.'
We go to the movies many of us to escape real life. Comfortable as voyeurs, we let our favourite stars distract us and we forget our worries. But 'Blue Valentine' shows a truth no cinema can shield us from. It mustn't be missed.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
BLUE VALENTINE is both sweet and emotionally devastating. It's raw in
every sense of the word. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance has crafted a
brave and genuine relationship-character study. Ryan Gosling and
Michelle Williams floor me. Acting doesn't get better than this
Dramas about a couple whose relationship is warm and fuzzy at first but then grows cold and bitter over time is not something new. You don't have to go back to classic films in the 60s, you could just take last year's indie Peter and Vandy for example. So there have been many attempts to capture relationships on the big screen that's not fantastical but more grounded and more honest. I believe that BLUE VALENTINE has perfected it.
What's genius about Cianfrance's story is that the dialogue doesn't hold any type of pretense to it. I attended the press screening and read the press notes afterward and was amazed by the long, grueling process that Cainfrance went through along with his stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams just to get the kind of characters they have in mind. Some of the scenes you see in BLUE VALENTINE were contributions of Gosling and Williams who had complete understanding of the characters and the goal of the story. The story shows you the past, how these two characters met, what made them fall for each other, romantic and heartfelt.. and then.. the present, of what time does to a relationship when communication is not clear anymore and misunderstandings take over like an ugly bacteria that worsen every situation, it just doesn't look hopeful from that point on.
Last year we had the film Precious which was a pretty heavy, emotionally draining drama. This year is BLUE VALENTINE which serves similar kick but it's less cinematic and even more performance-driven. I can't even begin to fairly describe how astounding Gosling and Williams are in this film. Their performances here will be the kind that aspiring actors and theater students will learn from for years to come. They're spontaneous and unadulterated. I'm completely amazed by the way the play the fights and the arguments. As Dean and Cindy, Gosling and Williams respectively convince you that they once love each other and now they may or may not be able to stand each other's presence.
Which leads me to the characters themselves, I don't think Cianfrance created them so that you the audience would take sides or try to decide which of them is right or wrong because I believe that these are two individuals who eventually realize that they're living not just with each other but also with regrets of the past, which make it very hard to be grateful,.. you can tell that they're 'suffocated'.
One could argue that Cindy is right in that Dean seems too content, like he doesn't have ambition, he's short tempered and very demanding. And one could argue that Dean is right in that Cindy is too consumed by the thoughts of what could've, would've, should've been if the her choices had been different. Their relationship is not physically abusive but it might as well be, there are times when things get heated, you would think it's only a matter of time before somebody would get seriously hurt.
It seems like somewhere along the way, Dean and Cindy just aren't in the same wavelength anymore. Their unhappiness stems from the fact that they no longer know how to make each other happy. Cianfrance wants to remind the audience that marriage is hard, it's a lot of work and it can get rocky, it's no laughing matter. If you're looking for a happy ending or perhaps Dean and Cindy have a moment where they'd still be friends, BLUE VALENTINE doesn't offer that, what it offers you is a depiction of both the beauty and the hardship of relationship/marriage. It speaks to those who may have grown up in a home where the parents aren't your stereotypical love dubby mom and dad you see on 7th Heaven-type soap operas. So if you don't come out appreciating BLUE VALENTINE, not even for the performances, then it's possible that it's because you're not the intended audience.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This family album is familiar. A beautiful small town girl meets an
eccentric but charming stranger and they fall in dumb. Five years and
one enchanting child later, his romantic notions sustain the illusion
of his happiness, but her reality is not so poetic. This is a quick
snapshot of Dean, Cindy, and Frankie. What happens in this family is
what happens to so many others when affection is replaced by contempt,
when passive aggression becomes less the former and more or less the
Derek Cianfrance has been developing "Blue Valentine" for nearly 12 years, and his film is not just a complex portrait of its two main characters, it's also profoundly honest as it examines intimacy from every angle. Emotionally and physically, the romantic story of Dean and Cindy flashes backward in beautifully edited matching shots that show us the first flourish of affection, and the final backlash of frustration. Cianfrance doesn't force his audience to choose sides though it was probably easier for me to identify with Cindy. That's what is the most compelling about this film. I cared about both of the main characters and didn't want either to lose. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams both delivered superb performances and each took a little piece of my heart. Or as Tom Waits said in his song, "It's the tattooed broken promise" (Dean has a "Giving Tree" tat on his upper arm).
The camera work and art direction are exceptionally effective. Set primarily around Independence Day, we see flags, fireworks, and all realm of red, white, and blue. This motif is subtly conveyed with the lighting and costumes throughout the film and continues throughout the credits. Fireworks serve as a last reminder of the explosive power and fractured remnants of a brief illumination.
When this film is finally released, I expect it will receive an R rating for some fairly graphic nudity and explicit sexuality. There is also a brutal fight, alcohol consumption and smoking. And if that's not enough, a near-abortion might be too much for some, but hey, this is a very contemporary portrait of a familiar American marriage.
If ever there was a perfect film that defines the romantic relationship
for the 21st century, Derek Cianfrance's 'Blue Valentine' is that film.
We begin at a secluded ranch house where a little girl is trying to
find her lost dog. We then see her father (Ryan Gosling) comforting
her. Enter mom (Michelle Williams), the concerned mother who tries to
balance work and her child's needs. Seems like a generally happy
household, right? Wrong. Though they may not want to admit it, Dean and
Cindy's marriage has been on the rocks for years. Dean decides to take
his wife to a sex motel that ends up being more like a Star Trek motel
to try to rekindle the way they used to feel about each other. The
reason for their bickering is unclear until the flashbacks that have
been following the main plot line give you a full understanding of why
things have deteriorated so. You see them meet each other, fall madly
in love, and then experience
well, you'll have to see it yourself.
Personally, I think this is the tragic romance to end all tragic romances. Films will try to beat it, but they will have to work long and hard before they can eek out an ounce of the genuineness with which this film tells its story. Ryan Gosling's performance is one with a true everyman quality while allowing for a full-fledged, interesting character and a brilliantly realized character arc. Michelle Williams does the same. She delivers this role with so much raw truth that you almost forget that it's Michelle Williams and not just an average woman. I would not be surprised at all to see both of these superb talents get nominated for Best Actor Oscars, along with Derek Cianfrance for Best Director and the writing team for Best Original Screenplay.
It's heartbreaking, it's deeply moving; it will have you laughing, crying and singing its praises. Even though the MPAA seems to have a beef with truth in filmmaking, it's hard to imagine this film not being discovered over time and being recognized for the infallible masterpiece that it is.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Throughout this film about a failing marriage, I wanted one question to be answered: What was the problem? Here we have a funny, loving, childlike guy married to an unhappy woman. Seems she gave up her medical career because she became pregnant before they married. Hmmm...since when does this thwart an entire career? It ain't the 50s anymore. We see through flashbacks that they were very much in love, but we do not get to know why she, not he, becomes dissatisfied with the relationship. We are expected to believe that this is how most relationships dissolve? For no particular reason, just a blah feeling about it all. This film needs a half hour of editing and a much faster pace. The dialogue is flat, and the much hyped sexually explicit scenes may be just that for prime time network TV, but not for me. I didn't see sexually explicit at all here. I asked audience members around me--all women--what her problem was. Three said that it wasn't clear to them why she was no longer in love. One suggested it was probably because he smokes. Another because he drinks. Another because he is immature. Hmmm...Then I asked (bothered it seemed) two other moviegoers, again women, and they looked at me puzzled. When I asked her what the wife's problem was, she said, "You mean--what caused her problems?" Uhm...yeah. The other said, "Life." And they both left. This film is not satisfying emotionally or intellectually. And it's a bore, too. When the female protagonist says that she has two children, implying that one of them is her husband, I thought--could be this is her issue then. Lame, just lame. The guy clearly loves her and their daughter, and he is clearly childlike, not childish--in fact, is is she who seems childish and selfish. Writers: be clear.
i saw this movie at the Sundance film festival and i can't get it out of my head. everything about it is incredibly inspired and brave and poetic. the acting is astounding (i can't remember the last time i saw 2 movie stars be so raw)... the honest, unflinching portrayal of a real relationship is something you don't see much, especially in American film, (again, the actors really deliver here)... the way the images and the music work together creates a sort of dream-scape. this movie is special. i was blown away by it. i can't wait until the release so i can see it again. i hope it is as good as i remember! and i really hope they don't get scared and change it because people need to see this in the movies!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were both excellent in this movie,
their talent was exhibited very well which was about the only redeeming
thing about this film, they played a miserable couple very well. Now
that I got that out of the way, the movie itself was a renter at best.
I read reviews saying that this movie was "Heart-wrenching" and "Moving" but only thing that wrenched my heart out is the fact that people buy into this mediocrity. The script was weak, there was no decent dialogue, no compelling plot, no creative story-line, no real character development and no insightful resolution; it was as if someone wrote about a sad boring broken romance that they had and found some sucker to produce it. It was a hyperbolized exhibit of the worse side of the marital statistics in society. As for the cinematography, I have seen better quality work done in Junior colleges. Some of the scenes the frame was zoomed in so much the viewer didn't know what they were looking at; I understand that it was done purposefully to bring a first person perspective for the viewer, but it was contrived, not avant-garde. I don't understand how people found this movie entertaining or valuable in anyway.
Now for the story. Let me break it down, guy meets girl (already Pregnant, 9 weeks in) takes her anyway, gets married in a roadside chapel, five years later she doesn't appreciate him due the suffering of her own guilt, but can't own up to her faults and blames it all on him. Guy, sucker that he is raises the child as his own after being beat up by the biological father and still stays with the girl even though it is blatantly apparent she doesn't love him, and using him as a scapegoat emotional crutch that throws him to the side after everything he's done for her. Heart-wrenching? Only because Gosling's character was so spineless. Was I moved? To tears, that I opt to go see another movie. Never did I imagine that a shotgun wedding love story could be made into a movie in such a pretentious and predictable manner. Those of you who thought this depressing chic flick was some kind of phenomenon, please reconsider some truly good films that are out there and compare their qualities to this one and appreciate the well crafted deserving work that is available to you. As for the morals of the story, don't marry someone you just met and is pregnant with someone else's child or stalks you on a bus with a ukulele. Don't need to remind me twice.
I must again stress that Gosling and Williams did very well in their performances. Their abilities to show the change of state in their characters feeling towards one another was astounding and quite an inspiration in their work. Their choice to be a part of this project is what was disappointing. If these two were not involved in this project it would have never had such a big spotlight on it.
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