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Love is (sometimes) in the air in Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine, starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.
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★★★★✩

Blue Valentine

Directed by Derek Cianfrance

Starring Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling

Rated R, now playing

For those who are considering watching the romantic drama Blue Valentine on a date this weekend: Don’t do it.

The trailer, the poster, and Grizzly Bear music might give the impression that the movie is an adorable independent film with some sad elements. But Blue Valentine is a Cannes Selection, and the angelic faces of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling front a story that is not just sweet and beautiful — while Blue Valentine is still a love story, it is a realistic and depressing one.

Love takes various forms. For some people it changes, fades, or turns destructive. For others it is a stone in a pocket; they forget that it exists except when they occasionally reach to see if it is there. Director Derek Cianfrance takes on a genuine portrayal of a relationship, the mystery of love and of falling in love, through the tangible consequences of its uncertainty.

Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a romantic, free-spirited high school dropout who finds a job in a moving company, while Cindy (Michelle Williams) is a bright and practical high schooler. The two characters seek each other out to learn more about relationships, and as they become acquainted, each becomes convinced that the other can offer the right kind of love.

But contrasting personalities become an obstacle years later. Cindy is now a stressed, demanding mother and wife while Dean is immature as a father and husband. The movie cuts back and forth between present and past, allowing the audience to take a break from the tense present and absorb more heart-warming and pleasant experiences of earlier years. Perhaps that is the way people in relationships take a break from difficult situations in real life.

Or does throwing oneself from one end of the spectrum to the other hurt even more?

The pace of Blue Valentine seems slow in the beginning, but the pictures of Dean and Cindy intensify every time one of them speaks or reacts in a particular scene. Dean is characterized as a gentle type, even in the smallest moment at the beginning in which he begs his wife to wear her seatbelt. Further into the movie, we see Dean as a young man, meticulously decorating a room for an old man who has just moved into a nursing home. Already spending too much time reflecting on the arrangement of items in the room, he insists on staying longer when the old man arrives. The performance is spectacular and every detail is powerful and real. The characterization of gentleness continues in a more heart-wrenching way as the movie examines Dean and Cindy’s turbulent relationship in later years.

The movie successfully captures the complexity of real life situations in every scene; nothing and no one is ever completely right or wrong, sometimes people inexplicably fall in love, and many events are beyond our control. What really matters is how the characters choose to either deal with or avoid the inevitable outcome.

The unsettling blankness at the end of the movie left me hanging. However, the brief confusion that I felt was an appropriate end to the film. Blue Valentine may not be a good “date movie,” but it is an honest piece of art that delivers a message. Give it a try and find out what the message is for you.