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March 21, 2011 | by  | in Film |
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Blue Valentine

When anyone says “Ryan Gosling”, the image to arrive in most heads will be that of The Notebook‘s Noah; the one who bargains dates by dangling from ferris wheels and writes Rachel McAdams every day for a year. It’s the exemplary heartthrob model for idealistic romantics everywhere, and as it would appear, the very image Gosling’s latest “romantic” outing Blue Valentine seems to relish in playing him against.

Both Noah and Blue Valentine‘s Dean come from blue-collar backgrounds; under-privileged but hard working, both have a cocky charm and joking spirit that forgives their apparent roughness, and both are doggedly persistent in romantic pursuit, inflexibly ignoring signs of disinterest. But while Noah ends up building a house for his inamorata, Dean simply paints the inside of other people’s houses for his. Where Noah rekindles an old flame within a paddle-boat, wading through a picturesque, swan-filled lake, Dean employs a tacky sex motel in an attempt to re-woo his. And where Noah’s commitment eventually wins over Allie, it’s Dean’s stubborn nature that ultimately deters his Cindy.

Blue Valentine is an anti-romance, offering a bleak portrait of marriage, perhaps more truthful than cynical. It’s not hard to see why Dean and Cindy fall for one another, but it’s even easier to see how they fall apart; how the quirks they fell in love with wilt into cumbersome inadequacies. The film plays at these contrasts, cross-cutting their youthful courtship against the loveless state of their present, and seeing the warmth of the former (shot in carefree handheld) back-to-back with the current only assists in the heartbreak.

While the bitter deconstruction of their relationship is undeniably wrenching and affecting, its more so thanks to its immersive performances than its writing or direction. Gosling and Williams are fantastic (which is no surprise, they always are), a pained expression from Williams or an angry silence from Gosling speaking louder than any of their dialogue can. Without Williams and Gosling, Blue Valentine is a film that would struggle to sustain itself. It’s raw (both emotionally and sexually), and has no intention to satisfy, but its performances and honest, wounded reflections on romance, passion, naivety and time – a welcome side-step to the saccharine – make it easy to recommend.

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