Paying ill-concealed deference to narrative conventions, the unpredictable and often excruciating twists of love and relationships must be codified into the language of cinema, often more for their ostensive value as entertainment than as study or discussion. Derek Cianfrance’s second feature, Blue Valentine (2010), is then the antithetical romantic drama: a reflection of romance as it so frequently is, rather than as we might imagine it ought to be.
Exploring the mundanities which characterise the everyday lives of so many modern families, Ryan Gosling’s charming but volatile Dean and Michelle Williams’ deflated and despondent Cindy portray the nuanced path of so many relationships with affecting conviction. With warts-and-all defiance their faltering relationship is unwrapped as two stories in parallel: the first, their present as father and mother to their daughter, Frankie, the second, their pasts as hopeful teenagers and the initial events which enjoined them.
Contrasting the dreary drudges of family life against the novelty and excitement of a blossoming relationship, Cianfrance depicts in voyeuristic detail how one collapses unto the other. How the commitments of family can necessarily force personal aspirations aside, how intimacy can grow stale and division emerge. Ultimately, we’re forced to confront the taunting transience of those powerful emotions, which ignite passion, but so rarely sustain it. As a young Cindy is forced to ask of her grandmother, “how can you trust those feelings, when they can go away so quickly”.
Painting even those fawning first steps between Dean and Cindy – so often the staple of more commercially successful titles – with a veneer of chiding unsightliness, Cianfrance’s agenda becomes clear. Blue Valentine is to the romantic comedy what Michael Hanenke’s Funny Games (2007) was to mainstream horror: a concerted putsch against the commercially acceptable face of reality depicted by box office cinema; a cool reminder that life is rarely so polished.