Blue Valentine is a film that’s explicit in its lack of specificity as it examines the ennui that comes with marriage. You may often hear divorced couples citing “irreconcilable differences” as the reason for the disintegration of their marriage. As far as grounds for divorce goes, it’s probably the vaguest and it’s from this same state of general ambiguity that Cianfrance roots the dissolution of the marriage in Blue Valentine on. Dean and Cindy are in a failing marriage and neither of them seem able to discern why. It depends on an atmosphere shrouded by the story that’s redolent of the twitchy awkwardness of Greenberg or the meandering apathy of Somewhere. Blue Valentine is uncomfortable and even gauche because that’s the situation that our protagonists are in and in that way Blue Valentine depends as much on its actors as much as it serves them up an almost impossible task.
I’ve never been a particularly big fan of Michelle Williams, since her Dawson’s Creek days she’s always had the tendency to personify the characters she plays with a harshness that seems unnecessarily harsh and in watching her play Cindy in the present it would seem as if she’s doing the same – she’s not, though. It’s a difficult task playing a character then and now when the “then” is so recent and the way that we go to the “now” are so vague. Williams tasks the task and delivers with aplomb, though, allowing the same potentially cute features of the younger Cindy to stagnate and become the tics that divide us from completely surrendering to her when she ages. It sound too easy – too easy – especially when you think of the cavalier manner that Gosling must play Dean in. To be honest, Cianfrance seems to intent on playing him up as a villain too often. Still, Gosling uses his natural intensity to create Dean as a bit of surprising entity. I find it impossible not to choose him in the battle of the spouses – not because his Dean is more sympathetic, but because he’s playing with his heart on his sleeves (as he should) something that doesn’t necessarily make him a better but marks how much he yields to his characters faults, fearlessly. It’s not really Williams fault that I can’t love her wholly.
I can’t love Blue Valentine wholly either, and it’s not because it’s a downer. Whereas I can accept the dwindling nature of Somewhere as indicative of Coppola’s overall point Blue Valentine makes its point but Cianfrance seems more interested in establishing how depressing the marriage has become and the flashback scenes work not because of a palpable interest in that portion of the narrative (as far as I can discern) but because Williams and Gosling are such troopers. Ultimately, Cianfrance succeeds because he at least shows some legitimate interest in his characters but at times there’s too stringent a feeling of dawdling which makes sense in the present day portions of the film, but robs the flashbacks of any chance to suggest a different alternative to the relationship. And if the relationship was so obviously doomed, I can’t help but wonder what the point of it all was.