Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Blue Valentine

Screen chemistry, that elusive and magical intangible quality that can never be scripted, where two performers connect as a whole.  It's that "it" thing that makes the cinema so electric, and when it happens, and it does very seldom, suddenly your engaged in a way that's hard to feel what they feel, because it's so raw, and emotional and effortlessly real.  It's that quality that can make a good film a great one, or a mediocre one a good one.  Whatever "it" is, it happens in Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance's small, chamber piece of a love story, with its stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.  The ebb and flow of the actorly precision that these two young, gifted performers have, is almost meaningless unless they flow together, and do they's a cinematic pairing that puts to shame nearly every romantic film (comedy or drama) in quite some time because the powerful rapport, the volcanic energy between the two budding stars.  There are moments when Gosling and Williams share the screen, that it feels akin to being transported to a bygone, possibly non-existent era where the stars were bigger, grander, and shared an electricity that sent you shivers.

The story is simple, the mood is far from-- we meet a young married couple, Dean and Cindy (Gosling and Williams), and they've been married now for a couple of years.  Together and separately, they've grown accustom to the daily routines; she's a nurse living out an unfulfilled passion of being a doctor, he's a house painter living the dream, being able to start drinking at 8:00 AM.  They have a small daughter named Frankie.  They're in a rut.  Being the more impulsive and romantic of the two, Dean assembles an over-night get-a-away to a themed sex motel to spruce up their love life, oblivious to the bigger problems at hand.  The night, inevitably is disastrous.

But the trigger to Blue Valentine is the way it flips back to where Dean and Cindy first meet.  Their younger selves are impulsive, romantic and optimistic, and it's positively contagious, seeing a love story envelop in front of us.  They meet cute, in a sort of indie-movie type of way, but it rings true because the performances are so sincere and accessible.  She's a bright college student, he's a working class moving man.  They go on on their first date, and Dean serenades Cindy to an Elvis medley of "You Always Hurt the One's You Love," while she does a little jig.  It's such an exciting moment because the camera is at it's least showy and keeps it all at contained long shot, leaving every awkward gesture, smile, and new found smitten-ness in full view.  The past informs the present, and while the older, and not exactly wiser Dean and Cindy are in the midst of a full-on Bergman-esque Scenes From a Marriage nightmare, there's that sparkle, and damned elusive chemistry thing between the two of them.  What feels so true and honest about the relationship in Blue Valentine, is the strongest sense that it started well before the movie did, and will end long after; their story isn't complete, and I suppose that's the point.

And while the raw honestly between Gosling and Williams may have unsettled the prudes at the Motion Picture Association of America, it's in that same vein that their utter go-for-broke commitment is reason Blue Valentine works as well as it does.  Gosling whose Method-intensity is matched by his matinee idol charisma and boyish looks, gives his most lived-in performance as a working class guy, honest and romantic, but volatile and slightly dim.  Williams, with her quiet, natural screen presence, has the trickier role as the pragmatic girl who knows and feels that this boy probably isn't ambitious enough for her liking.  Together they make a love story complete, true and whole.  A-

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