Tuesday, May 17, 2011

True Blue

by Drew Martin

In the previous post I wrote about Shannon Plumb, who makes short, silent films of herself playing a multitude of characters.

Plumb's husband is Derek Cianfrance, the director of Blue Valentine. I had wanted to see this film before learning of the connection but knowing it (after reviewing Plumb's work) made me a bit more eager.

I went to my local New York Public Library on Friday to inquire if they had it. The librarian told me that it was quite popular but he could request it for me...and then informed me there were 568 holds. I am a patient person but I think that translates into a couple years of waiting.

I checked my other library system, in New Jersey but only two towns had it available/not checked out. The closest library with it on the shelf would have required about a 15 mile round trip.

I do not obsess about seeing movies; I am quite picky and I rarely finish them but I had some ironing to do and it seemed like the right time to watch it. My wife informed me that Blue Valentine was also at the Redbox DVD rental kiosk at Stop & Shop, less than a mile away. So, very unlike me, I jumped into our minivan, drove to the store and picked up the movie for a dollar and got some groceries. I started watching it on a 5" boombox/DVD player screen and finished it on a 46" LCD television, ironing all the while.

Blue Valentine was much better than I expected. I have liked Michelle Williams in the few films I have seen her in and I kind-of-liked Ryan Gosling in one or two roles, but not everything he has been in. His performance in this film, however, won me over. Blue Valentine is a perfect slice-of-life film.

The performances are great. The directing is great. The locations are great, especially the themed Future Room in a cheesy motel the Gosling/Williams couple goes to on Gosling's urging to get away from their house. While much of the film jumps to the past, their present time in the Future Room is eerie, troubled and without real love. It is certainly not a positive sign for what is to come.

Without knowing anything about the film, the title alone sets a somber tone and whether or not Blue Valentine is a conscious reference to David Lynch's Blue Velvet or Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blue, there is little reason to expect a cheerful story. As with Kieślowski, the color is thematic. Gosling's character chooses the Future Room over the Cupid Room, which you can imagine being drenched in red. The future room is a cold, dim blue and it shows us the characters' in unfulfilled and fumbled embraces. The past, which is spliced into these scenes, is full spectrum color and warmer. This contrast of blues and reds is most often used in cinematography and photography to establish the warmth of an interior nested in the cold of night...here Cianfrance flips it...the interior present/future is denied that crackling fireplace warmth.

If I have a another media comment about this film, it is that the viewer is joined to Gosling's character at the hip in that most of the life-altering incidents (an unplanned pregnancy with another guy, the family dog being run over because its gate is not closed and the final termination of the relationship) are all directly controlled by Williams' character. Gosling's character becomes a kind of spectator, like us - the audience. His rearing another man's child is so much of the story but it is also metaphoric: he is made impotent only because he does not tap his potential, a term that drives him nuts. What does it mean to have potential?! He demands of his wife...in the same perplexed and insulted tone as his belligerent display at the medical facility where she works..."What does that mean, 'be a man'?! I hate that!!..."

All of his interjections fail. He can act but he cannot change the final outcome. The whole relationship was started by him literally getting his foot in the door of his future wife's life but it was a forced beginning. If anything, this film is anti-serendipitous, showing the foolishness of whim and that some things were simply not meant to happen. That being said, there are wonderful and charming scenes of a better past, like the ukelele/tap dancing scene used in the trailer and one of my favorite scenes, when Gosling's character moves a feeble old man from a neglected house to an assisted living facility. He carefully unpacks and arranges the man's personal effects, despite his coworker urging him to 'hurry up,' so that the man will feel at home when he arrives.

This is a film from a screenplay, so the story ends with the last scene. This seems unfair to Gosling's character and unfair to a viewer who might have more hope and who might want to give him another chance. I have heard people say this is a sad film; it is sad not because it is a very candid look as a troubled relationship, which really had no chance, but because there is no control...no possibility for anything after the last scene. That is how it ends as a story and the real life it so closely observes cannot defend itself, redeem itself.