Blue Valentine is a movie you have to see twice to fully appreciate. The nuanced performances by Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams, which earned her a Best Actress nomination, I might add, are great, of course. But they’re all the better when you watch it a second time and realize that half the time, they weren’t even really acting at all. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams were in love.
When I originally saw Blue Valentine in the theater last year, I wasn’t all that impressed. Sure, the movie was pretty good and slightly depressing, but some critics were hailing it as the best picture of the year, with others saying that Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling delivered the best performances of their lives. But to be completely honest with you, when I initially saw it, all I kept thinking was, "Is this the same movie that all the critics are raving about?" I thought the movie was just alright, nothing all that special, and that the critics were wrong yet again. But no, after a second viewing of the film, I realize that the critics weren’t wrong, after all. I was the one who was wrong. And I think the big misunderstanding was all because I bought into to the hype and believed what I wanted to believe the film was actually about. What I was expecting at the time was a loud and explosive film, full of screaming and arguing and graphic sex. And while some of that is actually in there, what I got instead was a very subtle film full of deep emotions and lingering scenes of a hopeful past that these two love birds once had. It’s really a beautiful film, made all the more tragic because it feels so real at the onset of their relationship. I didn’t get that out of the film the first time I saw it, but I do now. And damn, does it sting.
The story is about a married couple on the brink of divorce. Other stories have been told like that in the past, with Revolutionary Road being the first that comes to mind. But the difference between that movie and this one, or any movie and this one for that matter, is that Revolutionary Road felt very Hollywood, while this film doesn’t. This film feels genuine and real, and I think a huge reason for that is because it was genuine and real. Both Gosling and Williams spent years developing their characters and falling in love, and the early scenes of their relationship, which are definitely the most indelible and sweet in the entire picture, resonate the most because they remind us of what it first felt like to fall in adult love.
Adult love, of course, is very different from young love because there’s more at stake with adult love, what with a woman’s biological clock ticking and hopeless feelings that true love may never truly present itself. But then love does present itself, and it’s like nothing that you could have ever imagined as a kid, and that dangerous and wonderful spark is definitely here in this film. From the moment that Gosling meets Williams in an old folks' home and won’t let her leave without getting a date, to the moment that they first say they love each other on a bus. These scenes just feel so real and personal to me. I’ve never been a mack-daddy like Gosling, but that look in Michelle Williams’ eyes when you can see that she likes him, too, is just so wonderful to watch. It shows a connection that just can’t be faked or played up for Hollywood. This is as personal as it gets when it comes to filmmaking. This, my friends, is true art.
If there’s any complaint I have with the film, though, it’s that the break-up scenes don’t feel as real as the scenes when they’re falling in love. Maybe it’s because I’m not at that point in my relationship yet, and hopefully never will be, but it doesn’t seem as true to life as their initial pairing does. Yes, their crumbling marriage is often shown for ostensibly petty reasons, and that part feels genuine. But some of it just feels forced, like the scene at the end where there’s no turning back. Nowhere in the film did it look like they had it that bad, and so I can’t really believe that it couldn’t be patched up with a little more work and tolerance. Maybe I’m watching it wrong and it’s really a cautionary tale for young people not to get married so young, I don’t know. But any married couple that I’ve seen stick it out through some pretty hard times wouldn’t be so willing to split just because they didn’t feel the passion that they once had. They’d work it out and push on, possibly into a life of mediocrity, but they’d do it for the kid, and by God, they love their kid in this movie. Love her to freaking death.
Perhaps a true break-up movie can’t really be made unless a true break-up was actually occurring in those actors’ real lives. I’m not sure which would be sadder, though, the fact that it was happening in real life, or the fact that we were watching it for pleasure. Either way, I’m a little happy that their break-up didn’t feel as real as the love that they shared throughout the rest of the picture. That might have been too unbearable to watch. And thankfully, this film is quite watchable. A great movie all around that you should see and pick it up, even if parts of it will break your heart.
A large part of the reason I appreciate the film so much now is actually because of the stellar commentary, where we learn from the director, Derek Cianfrance, and the co-editor, Jim Helton, just how real the performances really were. The two obvious friends talk about how this movie took forever to make (over a decade!), and in how many scenes Gosling and Williams were told to throw away the script and just act from the heart. From that point of view, it makes it all the more special and sentimental to me. The commentary alone is worth giving this disc five stars.
But wait, there’s more! The disc also includes deleted scenes that genuinely feel like a day in the life of Gosling and Williams. Sure, some of the scenes, such as Gosling driving around in a truck with a co-worker and talking about infidelity, wouldn’t fit at all in the film. But they definitely expand the world of these characters, and they’re just about as perfect a snapshot into people’s everyday lives as you can get. These deleted scenes are perfect if you truly loved the film.
There’s also “The Making of Blue Valentine,” which is okay but not great, because many of the things discussed in the commentary are touched on here as well. Gosling and Williams do make an appearance to talk about what it was like getting into their roles, so that’s interesting. These two sure do know how to method act. And finally, there are actual “Home Movies” by Gosling and Williams and the daughter in the film. And they seriously are actual home movies, as the house they lived in the film was rented out and they stayed there for a month, patching together a history and filming it. Special features don’t get much better than these. Great additions to an already great film. Pick it up. Now.