You know a movie is great when it sticks with you, haunts you, when you can't get the characters out of your head. Ever since seeing Blue Valentine on Sunday, I've been thinking about the incredibly sad story of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) a whole lot. I can't remember the last time a movie was so heartbreakingly real and true without ever once going over the top. It's sad, yes, but the kind of sad you feel glad to have witnessed. Something about the relationship of these two characters strikes you as unflinchingly honest and beautiful, even in their worst moments.
The movie is split between the present day, when Dean and Cindy are going through a period of crisis in their relationship, and about 6 years earlier, when Dean and Cindy were beginning their relationship. When I had read about the movie, I imagined that the earlier scenes would be all sweetness and light and the later scenes incredibly sad. It doesn't play out that way at all. Just as many sad event happen in the earlier scenes, but the difference is the relationship between the two characters. The early scenes are infused with a sense of connection and care and the later scenes show the fissure that has occurred.
I can't say enough about the two central performances. With this performance following his spectacular turns in Half Nelson (2006) and Lars and the Real Girl (2007), I think I can confidently name Ryan Gosling my favorite modern actor. He is so charismatic, natural, and unique in his performance as the more outgoing and aggressive one in the relationship. He feels entirely like a complete person, and not at all like a character type. Michelle Williams plays a quieter character, and in some ways her challenge may be even greater. She has such an uninhibited naturalism in this role, she also makes her role deep and affecting. There is one crucial scene in the movie that is absolutely gripping, thanks in large part to her performance. If there's any justice in this year's Oscar race, both actors will be nominated for their roles.
Blue Valentine has gotten a lot of press for it's initial NC-17 rating, later changed to an R. I'm frankly confused at the initial rating. Sure, there's some sex and a bit of nudity, but nothing more than many other mainstream R movies. I think the ratings board couldn't handle the emotional truth of the movie. If you want to see highlights of emotionally truthful acting, you should see it as soon as possible.
Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010)
If there's a relationship movie that's the opposite of Blue Valentine, Scott Pilgrim might be it. I happened to see them a day apart, which made for an interesting contrast. Director Edgar Wright pulls out every video game, comic book styling he can throw in to the movie to show the story of a young band member (Michael Cera playing.....wait for it.... the EXACT SAME character he always plays, although I guess he's good at it) who has to fight the "Seven Evil Exes" in order to win the love of his crush.
I was with this movie for about the first 45 minutes or so. There's a great supporting cast you'll recognize from lots of movies, and the stylishness of the movie is fun to watch. After a while, though, I really wanted to feed the movie some Ritalin. The fights get a bit redundant, and I can't say I ever felt any emotional connection to the characters. If you're a comic book/video game enthusiast, you may appreciate this movie more than me.