We first meet ‘Cindy’ and ‘Dean’ at home with their little girl. It is immediately clear that ‘Cindy’ works and ‘Dean’ spends most of his time babysitting. Through flashbacks the story peels back like an onion and we get to know who these people are how they came to be.
There is a scene early in the film with a pregnant ‘Cindy’ in her early 20s consulting her O.B. He asks her how long she has been promiscuous. She says since she was 13. He asks her how many partners since then. She answers 20. Maybe 25.
‘Cindy’ (Michelle Williams) chooses to have the baby. ‘Dean’ (Ryan Gosling) chooses to help her raise the baby.
But, while they are both good people with good intentions, they do not live happily ever after. This is a film about consequences.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance, Blue Valentine reminded me at times of the brilliant Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004), mostly in its non-linear structure, but also in the emotional torment most relationships heap on their participants and just how hard it is to keep the flame burning. How painful it is when one person in a marriage falls out of love.
Blue Valentine was truly and literally a labor of love for Cianfrance. The director lived with this film in his head for nearly 12 years. He wrote 66 different drafts of the screenplay. He had Williams attached for six years, Gosling for five.
It’s a small film with an immense heart.
“I’m a filmmaker because I love people,” says Cianfrance. “I keep hearing this term ‘independent filmmaker.’ I’ve never considered myself an ‘independent filmmaker.’ I’m a very dependent filmmaker. I depend on other people.”
Both actors rise to this considerable challenge, each giving the performance of his/her career. Gosling (The Notebook, Half Nelson) is fast becoming one of those mercurial, chameleon-like actors who fully inhabits his roles. Williams, who was engaged to and has a child by the late Heath Ledger, is an extremely likeable actress and one I will always be pulling for. This role capitalizes on her life experience and wisdom. She was nominated for an Oscar for her effort.
Ultimately, Blue Valentine is a refreshingly honest film about the consequences of teen pregnancy. The rushed decisions, the emotional danger of abortion, the settling for less than stellar domestic arrangements out of necessity rather than the thoughtful planning that comes with maturity.
Kudos to director Cianfrance for finally realizing this labor of love. Films like Blue Valentine can and should serve as cautionary tales for our youngsters. Reckless living has consequences and the resulting collateral damage lingers and effects generations that follow.
Final note. The film was initially given the controversial NC-17 rating from the MPAA ratings board. The decision was reversed and the film was granted the more box office friendly R rating. The sex scenes are somewhat graphic, but I agree with the ruling. The R rating was appropriate.