Director: Derek Cianfrance
Studio: Starz/Anchor Bay
Think of Blue Valentine as an exploration of what happens to some couples after the end credits of any romantic comedy. The first feature-length film by director Derek Cianfrance—let's just get this out of the way now—is not pleasant to watch. It follows a young couple who were once passionate about each other and the slow, painful erosion of their marriage. Falling out of love is never about one thing, and Blue Valentine retraces every painful step.
Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a high school dropout working as a mover who wooed and married Cindy (Michelle Williams), a pre-med student. We learn that the two rushed into marriage after a week-long romance after Cindy discovered that she got knocked up by her previous boyfriend (Mike Vogel). Dean agrees to raise Cindy's daughter, Frankie, as his own, and it's pretty much all downhill from there.
The story unfolds with shots of the present day with Dean and Cindy listlessly sleepwalking through their daily grinds and is peppered with flashback scenes of how the two met and fell in love. In a last-ditch effort to reignite the romance, Dean books a futuristic suite at a tacky theme motel and convinces Cindy to come along. They drink, they reminisce, they try to have sex but they just don't work anymore because something inexplicable is missing between them. Cindy leaves Dean in the hotel room passed out on the floor and returns to work. When Dean awakens, finds her note and confronts her at the doctor's office where she works, the couple lays everything on the line in a marriage-burning finale.
Williams deservedly got an Oscar nomination for her role, and both she and Gosling deserve accolades for their brave, realistic performances. Williams not only bares all in various explicit sex scenes, she bares her character's intense shifting emotions and elicits sympathy even though Cindy is not very likable—she rejects Dean at every turn and it is revealed, in flashbacks, that she feels largely indifferent about her many sexual partners. Here is a guy who genuinely loves his woman enough to raise her ex's daughter as his own, yet this life-altering gesture seems largely unappreciated by a wife who feels trapped by her own bad choices. If this is art imitating life, just hope it is never yours.
Best extras: Both the DVD and Blu-ray contain a commentary track by the director and co-editor, a making-of featurette, a home movie and deleted scenes.