By Mike A.Smith
Whoa! That was my initial reaction after seeing Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in the new film ”Blue Valentine”. Both stars, who just turned 30 this year, give shattering performances here and truly establish themselves among the finest young actors Hollywood has to offer.
The film begins with a look at the typical young family. Dean (Gosling) is preparing breakfast for young daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka), letting Cindy (Williams) get a few more minutes of sleep. Dean is a house painter; Cindy a nurse. As they go about their daily routine everything seems normal. But slowly you begin to notice a small trace of resentment between them, as if things aren’t going the way they were planned. Truly an understatement.
Brilliant but depressing, “Blue Valentine” presents its story through a mixture of present day sadness and long ago joy. We are allowed to eavesdrop on Dean and Cindy as their relationship begins. We learn Dean is a hard working assistant for a moving company while Michelle lives at home with her loveless parents, taking classes and hoping to one day become a doctor. These early scenes are juxtaposed throughout the film, giving the viewer a photo of a relationship they never could have imagined had they only been observing the present day couple. The flashback images of their early courtship, like Cindy doing a spontaneous tap dance to accompany Dean’s singing while strumming a ukulele, give the audience a deep down hope that what we are seeing from the present day couple will soon melt away to reveal the happiness of the past.
As I mentioned earlier, both actors give performances that deserve to be recognized. As present day Dean, Gosling is barely recognizable. His hairline receding and badly in need of a shave, he resembles Jason Lee from an episode of “My Name Is Earl.” Only in the flashback scenes, with his face freshly scrubbed and his life really just beginning, does Dean show any wonder for the world in front of him. Williams’ transformation is more subtle as Cindy grows from a young woman full of life and energy to one clearly just going through the motions. Even their expressions of intimacy change, from holding each other at every chance to sharing alone time (and an abundance of alcohol) in the “Future Room” of the local fantasy-themed hotel. Their attempts at lovemaking are stilted at best, the spark of the love they once shared clearly gone. You may have heard that the film was originally slapped with an NC 17 rating because of one scene between the couple. However the film was given an R rating on appeal from the filmmakers. And rightly so. The scene in question here is very similar to a scene in “Black Swan,” a film that earned an R rating its first time before the ratings board.