The two play Dean and Cindy, a young, married couple on the verge of ending their relationship. The film moves between past and present, juxtaposing scenes from when the two first met and fell in love, to their less-happy lives as a passionless married couple. As a young woman, Cindy had dreams of going to medical school and becoming a physician, and the 20-something Dean was a free spirit with a ukulele and a lust for life. Instead, she becomes an OB tech, he, a depressed alcoholic. The two try to keep up appearances for their precocious young daughter, but the love from their earlier years has all but faded.
Much of this film's publicity has been generated by its NC-17 rating and rumored gratuitous sex scenes. Both of these turned out to be exaggerations: the rating has since been switched to an R, and the sex scenes are pretty standard in terms of nudity and content. Heck, there wasn't even any full frontal! Anyway . . . the most surprising aspect of the film was the skillful shift in acting styles by Gosling and Williams. Both actors transition seamlessly between their past and present selves. Gosling maintains his character's quirky persona throughout, but what was fun and carefree behavior in the young Dean becomes unpredictable and inappropriate conduct from the older Dean. Gosling's younger character sings and dances his way into Cindy's heart, but the elder yells and drinks his way out of it. Williams' transition is more subtle, but just as powerful. Cindy is a fragile, sensitive woman — that never changes — but she loses the light in her eyes, which might be a more tragic fate than Dean's. Cindy becomes resigned to her situation as an unhappy wife, unaccomplished medical professional, and unsatisfied mother, and has no motivation to make a change. Dean tries to salvage the relationship, but lacks the will to own up to his shortcomings.
I wouldn't recommend a screening of Blue Valentine to anyone who is in the midst of a breakup. Seriously, don't see it. But. . . if you're in a healthy emotional place and wish to see two amazing onscreen performances, purchase a ridiculously overpriced movie ticket immediately!
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