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Black and 'Blue Valentine' as dark drama arrives at Philadelphia Film Festival

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The new dark intense drama with Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valnetine." Pic courtesy of The Weinstein Company. delves into the highs and lows of relationships

The Oscar bee has been buzzing around the film Blue Valentine  for some time now. It played to standing ovations at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, and the word of mouth around the film had it pegged as one of the most authentic portraits of a real life relationship to date. Does the film live up to the hype?

Blue Valentine, as some may expect, is a slow burning experience. The film is stepped in rich character development, and minimally shot, creating that kind of gritty, true life feel. Still, for all of the talent on the display here, the film does come off curiously cold, slightly pretentious, and lacking in overall impact.

Assembled like one’s memory of a relationship through good and bad, the film is assembled non- chronologically, jumping between past and present as the movie unfolds. Starting in present day, the viewer is introduced to a decomposing marriage. Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams) may have been in love at one time, but those moments have grown few and far between. Cindy is an overworked nurse, while Dean seems to be unemployed mope with a drinking problem. The bright spot seems to be their little girl Frankie, who bears more vibrancy and life than both combined.

As the two meander through their mundane current lives, the flashbacks start to bleed in. Memories consisting of mostly happy moments and interactions are all counteracted by dismal examples of the similar experiences in the present tense. For example, Dean arranges for a quick nightly getaway to a cheap, corny sex motel where intercourse is practically forced between the two, while a flashback shows an intense sexual act that occurred when the pair had initially met (an oral sex scene that apparently nabbed the film an NC-17 rating).

Blue Valentine is a movie that will be remembered for primarily due to two powerhouse lead performances. Both Williams and Gosling are startlingly raw, both creating characters that are as true to life as any could possibly be. Gosling once again disappears into the rule, proving he is truly an actor for this generation. He strikes a well meaning chord within his aimless drunk. Williams is heartbreaking as a far more fragile figure, a woman on the brink after life’s decisions have forced her down certain pathways.

Derek Cianfrance’s direction is never heavy handed or manipulative, always consistent with the realistic approach, wading through a thin script courtesy of Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne. The film avoids convention even to the point of eliminating a concrete opening and ending. Those decisions come back to bite the film in the end, but they still remain bold choices film-making wise. Cianfrance also deftly integrates the past and present, managing to fuse the memories into a story of sorts without giving it linear structure.

Still, with all that said, Blue Valentine comes across as good, not great. It’s a movie (like many) that falls victim to the hype. The performances are excellent, and the production competent, but it never touches on any themes that other movies haven’t done before, and to a more powerful effect. Also, the film projects itself to a level of depth that is never fully realized. This is powerful stuff to be sure, but there is a core piece of this story that seems lost, one that would enable the viewer to understand this relationship and its dissipation that much more.

Without that, Blue Valentine loses the opportunity to explain ultimately what this two hour journey of pain was really for.

Stay tuned for more of Jim Teti from the Philadelphia Film Festival.

Contact Jim at jteti@philly2philly.com

Pic courtesy of The Weinstein Company