Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams both give their all to their roles in this indie drama, and although it could benefit from a trim to tighten it up, Blue Valentine certainly gets a must see recommendation from me. The film tells the story of a relationship and its struggles, and I’ll warn you now – don’t go in expecting a feel good love story, this one is a whole lot darker than that.
It seems impossible to talk about Blue Valentine without discussing the highly unusual and lengthy preparation process. It took 12 years for Derek Cianfrance to get the film made which allowed for an estimated 67 drafts, Michelle Williams had six years to prepare for the role, Ryan Gosling had four. Midway through production they took a month’s break in which the two actors lived together, along with the young actresses who played their daughter, in order to build their relationships together in preparation for the rest of the shoot. The results of this process shows both positively and negatively in the finished result. Positively because it clearly strongly informed the actors’ work and relationship with one another, which is the primary draw of the film. It affected it negatively however as the director seems to have given a little too much freedom to the actors to deviate from the script and improvise. Don’t get me wrong a lot of this is really great stuff, but a slightly surer hand could have pulled this one together a little better, and still wouldn’t have sacrificed the impressive realism which the improvisation helps generate.
I’ve already indicated that the two leads are fantastic but it is worth stressing again; Gosling and Williams both give performances that rank amongst the absolute best in their respective careers, possibly being the best. I can’t decide which one gives the better performance out of the two of them, just as it is very difficult to fall on just one side of the characters’ argument against the other. This is a film about a relationship where you can understand both members’ position, sympathise with them, and then be devastatingly pulled around their emotional highs and lows as the film works through its motions. That’s not to suggest that Blue Valentine is without any large faults, it threatens to verge on dullness a couple of times, but luckily avoids this largely by the intensity of the performances on screen. I don’t blame the script or even Cianfrance’s direction for this – it feels more just an unfortunate side effect of the improvisational approach during filming.
Note that I said it threatens to verge on dullness occasionally, not that it is consistently dull, because it certainly isn’t that. Overall the direction is impressive, the performances searing, and the realism makes the film’s events all the more painful. It’s just a shame that this one keeps some of its padding, because otherwise Blue Valentine could have achieved greatness.