J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Blue Valentine, Blue-ish Movie

Being a parent is easy, marriage is hard—or something like that. Dean and Cindy are going through a rough patch, but as you might have heard, the sex is still there. Though Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine has generated considerable Oscar buzz, it is really most notable for the outside controversies involving its original MPAA rating of “NC-17,” which the Weinstein Company has since appealed down to an “R.” Still not for children, the accessibly R-rated Valentine (trailer here) opens today in New York, uncut, reflecting Cianfrance’s directorial intentions.

He used to crash in Brooklyn squats, while she got taken advantage of in her white bread Pennsylvania schools. Their very different worlds briefly intersected when he happened to move an elderly gentleman into her grandmother’s nursing home. Immediately smitten, he moved Heaven and Earth to get a date, which we see in all its glorious eccentricity over a series of flashbacks.

Of course, the bloom is off the rose in the here and now. Dean has forged a special connection with their daughter Frankie, perhaps because he is somewhat childlike himself. Cindy however, has had enough. Again, we witness the disintegration of their relationship in excruciatingly intimate detail.

It is hard to fathom why Valentine has been such a critical darling and festival favorite. While Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are separately quite effective, poignant even, as Dean the slacker goofball and Cindy the icily professional RN, together they are never the least bit believable as a couple. Frankly, their quirky courtship is like fingernails on a chalkboard. By the time their marriage completely implodes, despite a Hail Mary trip to the local no-tell motel that got the MPAA’s full attention, it is hard to see how they lasted so long in the first place.

Valentine is part of an indie movie sub-genre that finds white trash angst artistic in and of itself, but its cocktail of sex, bickering, and reminiscence grows increasingly tiresome. Though its simulations might leave a tad less to the imagination than customary, the film will hardly shock anyone who has seen a fair number of European imports.

To be fair, all three principles, including Faith Wladyka as Frankie, are quite strong. Gosling in particular, taps into something deep and honest as Dean. Yet, they are so mismatched from the get-go and so unremittingly annoying down the stretch, it is hard to do anything but shrug as the inevitable unfolds.

At least Valentine understands the consequences of its tale, clearly conscious of the unfortunate ramifications for Frankie. Still, it is not exactly the second coming of Kramer vs. Kramer. Essentially a case of indie slumming, Valentine does not live up to its ample fanfare. It opens today (12/29) at the Angelika Film Center, with Cianfrance taking questions after the 7:45 screening.

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