You know when you're really hungry, and desperate for food, but there's just none available so you have to cope without? And then when food finally comes your way, you realise you've passed the point of hunger and you're not bothered anymore? That's a little bit like Blue Valentine. I've been waiting to see this film forever, and now that it's finally out on general release in the UK, I've lost all momentum for it. So that's probably why upon leaving the cinema, my mind quickly wandered elsewhere.
Set over a weekend, married couple Cindy and Dean are lost, stuck and deeply unhappy. They have a daughter (who it transpires is of a different father) and a dog, in a basic home living an average life somewhere in America. But things are about to hit breaking point: a tragedy forces them to spend some time alone together, and through flashbacks of their happy loved-up first days, the relationship unravels until every thread is left loose and hanging.
I couldn't relate to it. No matter how I tried, I couldn't muster up any empathy or feeling for them whatsoever. They both have their demons (Dean's drinking habits, Cindy's deep set depression), and their vulnerability runs so close to the surface in this film that outpourings of frustration and sadness are abundant - yet they are wholly unlikeable characters. Dean adores Cindy but he is needy to the point of addictive, and she despises his complacency and mediocrity. She in turn is in tolerable of him, believing he twists everything she says, and is trapped inside her own negative thinking, possibly still reeling from her difficult childhood, unplanned pregnancy and almost abortion (the abortion scene is extremely uncomfortable to watch) which cut short her dreams of being a doctor. Each one is suffering, each one is bringing the other down, it's a miracle they have such a chirpy and bright five year old daughter who your heart responds to the most watching this film.
Not to take anything away from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams who do a fantastic job and I loved reading about how passionate they were about making this movie, and the amount of energy and levels of themselves they put into each scene. It's beautifully shot too, with clever camera angles playing with reflection and light, and a style which captures their bare intimacy as a family unit. But it's all dirt, dirt, dirt and despair and instead of breaking my heart I wished they would just break apart. There was no real connection when they came together, and so for me, there was nothing worth fighting for. The most upsetting thing about the whole film was seeing the dead dog lying on the side of the road (what is it with Michelle Williams and tragic dogs?).
I'm trying to think of a couple of beautiful moments in the film that stood out for me but I can only think of cuts to camera, and joins in the creative narrative which I enjoyed. I thought it was put together seamlessly, although they could have held the ending longer as the credits came in too early. You want a catch in your throat as you realise it's the end, not elicit a "oh, is that it?" reaction.
I don't want to put off anyone wanting to see it - I know a few people who have seen it and liked it (I don't think you can 'love' this movie - it's too punishing) and it's generally praised by the critics and audience members elsewhere. I think to identify with their relationship is key to immersing yourself in the film and understanding the grinding resentments, the charms growing cold, the longing for something more. If, like me, you want to look away from them, Blue Valentine is nothing more than a well-made indie that fails to resonate.
Ryan Gosling singing goofily "you always hurt the ones you love..." will stay in your head for days, though.