Five stars: Without a doubt, that is the rating Blue Valentine deserves. The kind of romantic comedy where the comedy is subtle and the romance is downplayed, with the sort of nonlinear narrative that has shaped dozens upon dozens of art-house flicks before it, Blue Valentine is truly magnificent. Its magnificence in particular lies in the realness and depth of its characters, brought to life by masterful performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
On the surface, the film is about a ruined marriage and the days that lead up to its inevitable demise. Gosling plays a painter whose right fist seems glued to a can of beer, and Williams is a nurse looking to secure a higher paying job. Together they are raising a 3-year-old daughter who they both dearly love and adore.
We see from the get-go that Gosling and Williams’ characters are perpetually fighting with one another over virtually anything. He is still very much in love with her, but she cannot seem to stand him and his easygoing attitude any more. She wants him to be somebody, to put down the paintbrush and beer and aim for higher earnings and better things. He, in turn, wants her to return his passionate love. He puts everything he has into loving her and showing affection, but she is never willing to reciprocate.
Of course, all of this is revealed within the opening minutes of the film, so I haven’t spoiled any of the movie’s plot for you. Nor should I. The surprising aspect of this film is that at every turn we gather new information about the couple and learn the story about both why they fell in love and how they fell out of it. And the story is riveting.
Going into the film, I felt as I did when I was going into 127 Hours — confused. How could the filmmakers possibly wring out two hours worth of quality cinema from so simple a plot, with so few characters? But the film truly wowed me, and not only with its leads’ top-notch performances. The writing was fantastic: The slow revelation of the movie’s many integral plot points meant the whole picture did not come into focus until the film’s closing seconds.
As I mentioned, the film has a nonlinear narrative, which is key to its magic. Because we see two different plots — the current disintegration of the marriage and the story of how the couple met and fell in love some four years ago — we get a full-circle perspective on the romance and the relationship. Viewers can see and understand for themselves where the characters went wrong. And of course, the flashbacks are all the more powerful for the surprising details they impart.
Ultimately though, we see that the film’s true beauty lies neither in the strong performances nor the dual storylines, but rather in the prominent theme: love. Even in the scenes depicting the young couple’s worst moments, love is what it’s all about.
So, to all romantics, all lovers of good cinema and all people with some time to spare: Go see this film. It is art.