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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - "Blue Valentine" is a black-sympathy card to a marriage on the rocks.
The Weinstein Co. awards contender, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as an ill-starred young couple, opened Wednesday in the wake of a ratings hubbub over a bout of drunken, hotel-room sex. The studio successfully appealed the restrictive "NC-17" tag, receiving a softer "R" instead.
The film will generate some initial interest based on the aforementioned elements and glowing reviews, but the grinding regurgitation of the dissolution -- we're sick of this couple long before the film is over -- will stimulate viewers to file (out) for an annulment midway through.
"Blue Valentine's" best prospects may be on DVD, targeting Cassavetes admirers, and Europeans who are stimulated by the aesthetics of hand-held cinema over-punctuated with close-ups.
In this done-love story of Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams), director/co-writer Derek Cianfrance intercuts the relationship: He shows it in is flat last days, while flashing back to its puppy-love beginnings. In essence, Dean and Cindy now hardly recognize the person they once married: Dean is balding, lazy and combative, while Cindy is frustrated that she gave up on her intellectual potential by getting pregnant.
Cianfrance further counterpoints the drastic differences by the production aesthetics. The flirty-early days are enlivened by the bounce of a hand-held camera and a vibrant visual pallet, while the death-gurgle days are hardened by a unrelenting succession of close-ups and dim lighting. Ultimately, the heavy-handed and annoyingly obvious aesthetic wears thin.
Further enervating the story's potency is the narrative redundancy. Several scenes could be cut without sacrificing the film's acute, clinical depictions.
Fortunately, the performances are fleshed out and telling. Gosling layers his character's charm with an eruptive and credible anger. In his down-spiraling antics and tantrums, he is understandable and sympathetic. Williams stirs her performance splendidly: Her contained actions powerfully reveal the despair and hopelessness of a woman who was once a vibrant bride.