Movie Review: Blue Valentine

Following the theme that Ginger Gal set up this week, this movie review is of Blue Valentine. The movie was an amazing and stunning emotional rollercoaster. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams provided performances that should be admired and credited. So let’s get started.

The movie takes place in Pennsylvania, but beyond that, you are unaware of the city as it isn’t important to the plot. The movie is split into two parts. The present day portion opens the movie and tracks the course of a deteriorating marriage over two days. The past portion tracks the meeting and the eventual marriage of Ryan and Michelle’s characters, Dean and Cindy. These flashbacks are inserted into the present story. The story is one of pain, sadness, and fighting for love.

Dean is a young high school dropout, working for a New York City moving company. Cindy is a pre-med student living with her unhappy parents and caring for her grandmother in Pennsylvania. They meet by chance at the nursing home where her grandmother lives and fall deeply in love in a matter of weeks. They marry after discovering Cindy is pregnant from a previous boyfriend, Bobby (Mike Vogel), and she is unable to go through with an abortion. Dean agrees to raise Cindy’s daughter, Frankie, as his own. Before the wedding Bobby, aware of Cindy’s pregnancy, finds and assaults Dean at his job.

This story of their blossoming relationship is spaced with the present-day reality of their marriage over the course of a weekend. As the movie opens almost six years into their marriage and their life, the relationship has taken a toll on both of them. They now live in rural Pennsylvania and Dean works at painting houses while Cindy is a nurse. She has fallen out of love, she is tired of carrying the family, tired of pushing him to be better, to reach his “potential.” Dean brings Cindy to a motel in the hope of resurrecting their troubled relationship, but they fight, and Cindy is called away early in the morning to work at the hospital, leaving Dean alone and without a way back home. Dean shows up at the hospital drunk, where he gets into a fight with the doctor that Cindy works for, and gets her fired. Dean tries to console Cindy into giving their relationship another chance due to fear of raising Frankie in a broken home. Cindy argues that their home is already broken. At this point, the marriage for her is over, despite the fact that he is still devoted and still in love with her. You want to dislike her  for her harshness in wanting to end the marriage, for leaving a husband that wants to devote all his time to her and their daughter but it can’t be blamed solely on her. There are two people in the relationship, and more than enough blame to go around. Thus Dean decides to give Cindy space and leaves, Frankie runs after him, asking him to stay. As Frankie is encouraged to return to Cindy, Dean walks off into the distance.

Cindy is struggling with her emotions throughout the whole of the present day portion. Dean is sure in his; his character is fully devoted to his wife, and has been since the day he set eyes on her and declared he fell in love on first sight. He is willing to spend the rest of his life with her any way he can.

There are several parts of Blue Valentine that caused me to pause and think more on the differences between the characters and how that translated to the ending of their marriage. However, two main things stand out the most. The first: at one point in one of the flashbacks, Dean declares that men are more romantic than women; that men are looking for the ideal woman, the perfect woman to spend the rest of their lives with. He also states that women start looking for Prince Charming, but in the end, decide on looking for the man that can just provide for them. In a way he is right, sometimes practicality does win out for some women. They give up that search for the ideal match and settle for who can provide for them. This is highlighted in Cindy and her reasoning to get married to Dean. I am sure that she did love him, but the practicality and security of a marriage may have played a large role in that.

The second portion that I found interesting are the sex scenes in the movie and how they relate to the movie’s NC-17 rating. There are a few sex scenes, but nothing too graphic. What was most interesting, though, was the oral sex scene that had originally been the reason for the initial NC-17 rating. It is not graphic in any way, in fact all you know is that Dean performs oral sex on Cindy. All her clothing is still on and nothing is showing. In discussing this scene with a friend, we started in on the reasoning for movie ratings. What she mentioned and what I find important is that movie ratings aren’t standardized. How else would it explain how this was given a NC-17, while the mutilation of humans and gore of the Saw films were rated R? In fact, the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) does not have a standard board that makes these decisions, rather they assemble a group of “parents” that represent the “standard” of American parents, and that group decides what rating a movie gets. So this idea of a woman being serviced might be an issue for some people. Sex itself isn’t seen as something that women are supposed to enjoy, and any woman that does is labeled with words like “slut,” “whore,” “skank,” and the like. The scene isn’t pornographic at all, and to compared to other movies and shows allowed on television, is quite tame. Yet the concept that a woman is the person being serviced is what makes people nervous, what causes this type of a scene to be questioned, to be labeled “adult content.” Sure, sex in and of itself is “adult content,” but more often than not, when in a mainstream R-rated film, the sex scenes are more geared to traditional sex, in that the man is receiving the pleasure, the man is dominating, and the man is the one on top.  Inverting that makes people nervous, makes them uncomfortable, makes them wary, so they seek to label it obscene or “adult only,” when in fact it is just a sharing of the activity.

Overall it was an amazing movie, and extremely well done. The musical score was produced and created by Grizzly Bear, an indie rock group, who, according to the New York Post, is seemingly becoming the go-to group for indie film scores. The movie is two hours long and provides amazing performances by Williams and Gosling, however the subtlety of the story may be what is preventing it from getting more recognition and more play. Overall, it was a movie worth watching, worth experiencing, worth studying, because it is one of a kind.

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4 replies on “Movie Review: Blue Valentine”

This movie was incredible and I totally agree with this reviewer.

One of the things I thought was so fantastic about this movie was something I heard Gosling say in an interview after I watched it. He said that 1) he believes Cindy and Dean will get back together and 2) that sex is like the unspoken character of the film. I thought his first point was interesting, though I don’t think that’s what the film leads us to believe. I also think that his second point made a lot of sense (and another reason why I want to re-watch the film) because the act of sex is such a barometer for how their relationship is progressing (or regressing) in this film.

I loved this movie, and I thought it was a great example of how sex scenes in movies can really serve a purpose and tell you more about the characters and their relationship. I thought the scene in that cheesy hotel room where they try to recapture some of their former fire was so real and so sad. And I think you’re right that it was the oral sex scene and the focus being entirely on a woman’s pleasure that freaked out the MPAA; they’ve got a history of being leery of female orgasms and queer sex, and I thought this was one of the most realistic sex scenes I’ve ever seen in some really basic ways but in ways that I think the MPAA would take issue with – she’s wiggling around and thrusting her hips and he’s making sounds like he’s enjoying going down on her (and she’s making some sounds too).

After we saw it, future Mr. paperispatient and I were talking about hegemonic masculinity and how Dean does not fulfill that standard in so many ways – he struggles to provide for his family, he’s emotional and impulsive, and he enjoys pleasing his partner in a way that’s totally focused on her and that some people regard as submissive. I wonder if that context may have had to do with MPAA’s strong reaction to the scene as well.

Maybe, I for one though, found it interesting that there is no board that decides these things. It is a collection of people that they pay to rate them. So how is that objective? Different people aren’t going to maintain a consistent standard in terms of these things. It doesn’t make sense. No sense at all. I completely agree with you though about the character of Dean, he isn’t concerned about himself at all. He is more concerned about being an active parent and a active husband. Anything beyond that doesn’t matter. So it is entirely possible that people could subconsciously see him as weak or submissive and respond to that in a negative way.

Well, there is a ratings board, but it’s all very tricky and very shady, and although there are sort of standards for being on it, they don’t really adhere to those standards very closely. (And if I remember correctly, there’s a different board to which you appeal the rating, and that’s all even more secretive and creepy.) I highly recommend the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated if you haven’t seen it, it’s about the MPAA and the ratings board and film ratings in general, and the director actually investigates the board to see who the heck they are and what “qualifies” them to rate movies; he also explores how subjective it all is and how differently they often rate similar scenes, especially if those scenes involve gay sex or focus on female pleasure/orgasm.

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