Films about the dissolution of relationships are often hard to do. In trying to understand why the couple in question would want to leave each other, we also need to understand why they have stayed together for so long in the first place.
Two of my favourite films about this issue are (500) Days of Summer and Annie Hall. Both of these films get round this problem by using flashbacks to show us how the couple got together in the first place. In showing us both the good and bad of a relationship, these films say lot more about love than the mass-produced rom-coms that blight our screens every year.
Blue Valentine sees Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling fall in and out of love again. It follows the same route as (500) Days of Summer and Annie Hall, in that it flashes between the end(?) of a relationship and its beginning.
In the present day they have a young five year-old daughter. Williams is struggling to balance being a doctor, mother and wife. Gosling is the much more relaxed of the two, he works as a painter/decorator, a job he sees only in terms of the money it brings him to support his family.
At this stage of the relationship, the two seem to have lost the ability to communicate without some form of negativity. Although it is obvious they still care for each other, there is a painful strain to everything they say.
The movie intersperses this difficult part of their relationship with happier times. Before they meet, we see how Williams was seeking a way out of a relationship with her insensitive and uncaring boyfriend. We also see through Gosling’s conversations that although he doesn’t realise yet, he is ready to meet someone and settle down.
The film hinges on its ability to convince us of both these aspects of their relationship. It is to the actors’ credit that this is most definitely the case. It is clear they completely threw themselves into their roles for this film; roles which required them to put an incredible emotional intensity into almost every scene.
This intensity means Blue Valentine is not an easy film to watch. There are few films which have the bravery to show one of the most horrible and difficult things any two people can experience for such an extended length of time. To put it mildly, this is not a movie ideally suited to a first date.
In particular, one part of the movie sees Gosling convince Williams to go to a motel to try and rekindle their passion for one another. However, this is not easily done. Williams has obviously forgotten what it was that attracted her to Gosling in the first place. Gosling is no longer able to charm and allure her in the manner that came so naturally when they first met. There is a pain in every single interaction between the two in that motel room; a motel room which feels more like a prison cell for the two.
Blue Valentine features two of the finest performances of young Hollywood actors of recent years. If you don’t mind seeing a film that takes you on such an emotionally wrought journey, I’d highly recommend it.