Monday, January 10, 2011

Blue Saturday Movie Watching

It's official. Blue Valentine is 2010's #2 film. And I really can't tell you about it. I'll say what I can, of course, but its definitely better for film viewers to go in with no idea what the film is truly about, and for that reason the filmmakers should be pleased that the vast majority of people intending to see this only really know this title for the initial NC-17 rating the MPAA gave it before an appeal brought it down to rated R before release. Frankly, it was kind of silly for the film to get such a rating, and this should mean some success for the simply-made indie film, especially with award season underway.

Blue Valentine is the story of a relationship, in this case between Dean (Ryan Gosling), a painter and sometimes-musician, and Cindy (Michelle Williams), a nurse and medical student. The film follows their life as a couple from just before its initial conception to a modern-day crossroads, and portrays it in an unflinching realism that's much darker than most fans of the trailer might expect.

When you have a film with this low a budget, having strong talent in the acting corps is a must. Gosling, who for years now has played critically-acclaimed roles in largely-unheralded films, may have the role of his life thus far as Dean, a high-school drop-out cursed with "limitless potential" who would rather dedicate his life to his relationship with Cindy than anything else. Gosling approaches the role with an array of talents, including deft subtlety, inescapable charm and an amazing persona that at times soothes the spirit and at other times repulses greatly. I can't go into more detail; you'll understand if you see it. Williams likewise may have her biggest role to date, bigger than Jen Lindley or Alma Beers. As Cindy, she has to undergo emotional transformation that goes from happiest she's ever been to distraught in the range of a scene or two and never once is she unbelievable in doing so. What is even better than their individual performances is how well they work as a couple, their chemistry is so that together they make possibly the most believable film couple of 2010, surpassing many comprised of far more established actors.

As for the "ratings controversy" that probably would have derailed Blue Valentine's chances at commercial success, I can say with certainty that the filmmakers were right to appeal for a lesser rating than the initial NC-17. Though there were many objectionable items throughout the film, the rating was mainly given for one emotionally-charges sex scene at the film's midway point. Frankly, though what actually happens is not something you see in cinema nowadays, it's not pornographic and hardly offensive enough to warrant that kind of rating. Rated R is a much more appropriate and allows the film to actually garner an audience. Sure, there have been successful NC-17 films, most notably Midnight Cowboy and A Clockwork Orange (when it was still referred to as an "X" rating) but these days it carries a more negative connotation than most producers or distributors want to be associated with.

The excellent directing of Derek Cianfrance shows many scenes shot in one take, and the ability to make an excellent film without a dozen takes per scene makes Blue Valentine feel more authentic as a film and the audience more ingrained in the story of this couple. It has several difficult themes that are uncomfortable to watch for many people yet nevertheless are realistically rendered. That the film is so real, so uncomfortable while never allowing me to draw my eyes from the screen is the reason I rate it so highly. 2010 has gotten a rap as being a poor year for films, and while that might be true for the blockbuster giants, it's indubitably allowed the independent films to take over, with films like Blue Valentine getting the big chances they might not have had otherwise. Reward them for that chance.

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