One hesitates in using such cliched terms as the greatest actor or actress of his or her generation, but I defy anyone, upon seeing Blue Valentine, to not willingly, and quite wholeheartedly, thrust these very same monikers upon both Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Not that these two actors are in need of such newfound recognition - they have both had such epithets (and Oscar nominations) thrust upon them in past roles - but the raw nerves hit, with an almost machine-gun array of brutal emotionality, in Blue Valentine, do more than just cement such titles as greatest actor and actress of their generation to this deserving duo. It is almost a cinematic coronation of sorts - or at least damn well should be.
Controversial at first, due to an MPAA-sanctioned NC-17 rating right out of the proverbial gate (since reduced to a more cinema-friendly R) and giving a bit more credence to the aforementioned hitting of raw nerves, Blue Valentine is the most brutally honest portrayal of both the rising and falling of a relationship this critic has ever seen on screen, putting most other so-called relationship movies to utter, disgracing shame. Told in the non-linear style that has become something of an overkill in today's indie movie scene, director Derek Cianfrance nonetheless pulls off such a style with the much-needed (and much-heeded) assistance of Mr. Gosling and Ms. Williams in a pair of roles that could, in other hands, come dangerously close to, or even fall full throttle into pure cliche. Here we get a tragic beauty in the collapsing of love right before our eyes.
Flashing back and forth between the meeting of Gosling's blue-collar charmer and Williams' standoffish college girl - done with a hand-held camera to enhance the nervous flutter of first love and a steady-cam for the inevitable death knell that associates the giving up of hope - Blue Valentine is a bipolar movie of sorts, that dissects a relationship into halves, showing the giddy highs of the beginning and the desperate lows of the end. A particularly enchanting scene (one used to promote the film in the trailer) shows Gosling playing a ukulele, or some sort of miniature guitar, and singing in an admittedly funny voice as Williams dances the cutest of tap-dances. This scene, taking place on a late night street full of closed shops and showing a couple in a budding romance, can be juxtaposed with a sexually raw scene, many years of tired marriage later, with Gosling drunk as usual and Williams a lost soul, having given up her dreams, low set as they were - a scene of ugly, tragic shatterings.
This film is a hard film, and it is not for everyone (feel-good lovers beware!) but the honesty of this film and of its characters, and the performances of those aforementioned greatest actor and actress of his and her generation, make it well worth any psychological abuse one may very well withstand during the 114 minute running time that sweeps back and forth between gentle happiness and cruel vindictiveness. [12/31/10]