PopcornBiz's Scott Ross reported from the annual film festival in Sundance.
In "Blue Valentine" writer-director Derek Cianfrance sends doppelganger Ryan Gosling to do battle with Michelle Williams in an epic fight to save a flagging marriage. The result is a great film and maybe the worst date movie of the century.
The movie finds a couple clearly suffering through a quiet crisis. Dean (Gosling) is a doting father and dedicated husband who knows that his wife is painfully unhappy, but she remains unresponsive to his pleas for help. Cindy (Williams) has been ground down by her misery and turned into the kind of person who cleans their home out of spite.
As their love withers in present day, we see in flashback how it came to be. As they grow apart, the breaking point in their past is forever lurking over the action.
The chemistry between Gosling and Williams is as good as you would expect from two such talented actors. Williams in particular should be commended to for giving her all to a character that is extremely unsympathetic. The preparation that Cianfrance put them through clearly paid dividends.
"We shot three weeks first, for the past. Then we took a month off. And then we shot the present day for another three weeks," Cianfrance explained to the audience after Thursday night's screening before a full house.
"I think that time we spent in the middle there was really key, because we had a house and Ryan, Michelle and Faith, who plays Frankie (the couple's young daughter), we all kinda just lived in that house. We gave them a home video camera, we had a Christmas tree in the garage and they just kinda celebrated their life in there -- they lit the Christmas tree, wrapped Christmas present, made birthday cakes, cooked chicken soup. (It was a) fully functional house... Ryan and Michelle did a lot of dishes in the house to prepare. The anger, of which there is no shortage, the moments of joy, all work."
Part of what makes "Blue Valentine" work, too, is Cianfrance not intruding too much on the action. Either from behind, through a window or from the backseat of a car, we're observers to the drama unfolding. Often, we don't even hear what's being said, but it's not important, the body language tells the story.
Gosling, who (like too many actors) has a band on the side, does quite a bit of singing and ukulele playing in the film, something Cianfrance would love to see more of in the future.
"He kinda reminds me of Elvis in 1956, the way he sings... when we first put the movie together, my first question for these guys was, do you think we have Ryan singing enough in the movie? 'Cuz I would do a whole movie with just him singing."
The similarities in appearance and mannerism between Gosling's character and Cianfrance are impossible to ignore, a point that made the director visibly uncomfortable when someone in the audience tried to bring it up.
Though the film wisely steers clear of the Tom Waits classic by the same name, the music, previously released songs by Grizzly Bear, is fantastic.
As much as anything, Cianfrance should be commended for ending his film almost perfectly, there is not an ounce of fat. And the closing credits are -- as stupid as this sounds -- gorgeous. The sum result is a film that has to be considered a strong contender in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at this year's Sundance.