Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine has already earned kudos out of the Sundance Film Festival followed by a selection in the Un Certain Regard category at the Cannes Film Festival. The film shuffles the lives of Dean and Cindy (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams) into a series of scenes detailing approximately seven years of their courtship and marriage. The editing and performances are the film’s standout qualities and Cianfrance certainly shows potential as a director, but holes in the narrative and this film’s third act are quite troublesome.
Blue Valentine is dedicated to contrasting moments in time as we are first introduced to Dean, Cindy and their young daughter Frankie with little idea of just how many twists and turns their lives will take over the next two hours. It accomplishes this by bouncing back and forth between the past and the present, and does so effortlessly. Superbly edited, this process is never explicitly labeled, yet expertly pieced together into a seamless and almost intuitive production.
As I mentioned, the other element that truly stands out are the performances of Gosling and Williams, both of which have been turning in quality work for several years now so this comes as no surprise, but without them this film would have struggled emotionally.
Where this film does struggle and falls short is in its storytelling. Cianfrance co-wrote the feature with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne and as we take in the good and the bad of Dean and Cindy’s marriage, elements of their past are introduced and not all of them are fully fleshed out and occasionally only small pieces are hinted at that speak to a larger picture the audience is never completely introduced t0. I typically love when a director holds back information, but here Cianfrance alludes to important personality traits of his characters, uses them against them, but provides little to no context to rationalize their behavior.
This lack of information creates unbalanced profiles of our two leads. Gosling’s character gains our sympathy. He’s a good father, a hard worker and he cares for and wants to provide for his wife. This is evident in nearly every scene and yet I couldn’t stop feeling as if Cianfrance wanted the audience to side with Williams, who portrays a character that’s wholly unsympathetic and in desperate need of a Zoloft prescription and hours of therapy.
The problems this film suffers from come as a result of Cianfrance’s ambition. He makes a tricky attempt at a narrative shuffle which leaves the film open for more plot holes than he would have run into had he stuck to linear storytelling. By the time you get to the end you have a hard time accepting what is onscreen. It feels like someone cheated somewhere and you haven’t been given the entire story as things are being said and characters are being judged based on information you were never given.
Cianfrance shows plenty of talent as a first time feature director. It took him 12 years to see this film finally make it to the big screen and as a debut effort it is beyond expectation. There are, however, issues with the film that keep me from heaping praise on it similar to what it has already received. I look forward to his next effort, because if Blue Valentine is any indication the horizon is promising.