Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Blue Valentine.

Blue Valentine (Derek Cianfrance, 2010)

Here's the second of my Oscar film posts. Blue Valentine received one nomination this year (Michelle Williams for Best Actress). Incidentally, here are some other films that also received exactly one Academy Award nomination this year: Salt, TRON: Legacy, Unstoppable, The Wolfman and Country Strong. Ohhhh the prestige.

Also, apropos of absolutely nothing: I’m pleased to announce the launching of the official Taste My Sad Twitter account: @TasteMySad. Why? Because we just can’t believe it ourselves. Here is your chance to become an official FOTT (follower of the Twitter). I’ll try to make it worth your while.
Category: Sad movie about marriage. I’ve heard that love and marriage tend to go together like a horse and carriage, but apparently that’s not really the case these days. The divorce rate continues to hover around 50%; the number of “non-traditional” families (a politically correct term for couples who have kids out-of-wedlock LIVE IN SIN) continues to increase. And don’t even get the gays started on all this. For a lot of folks out there, it’s not the fairy tale ending that it’s cracked up to be at the end of most fairy tales. Many films have taken on the darker side of the institution: Kramer vs. Kramer, We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Far from Heaven, Revolutionary Road, etc.

I’d also classify this as a sad “realistic” movie. Realism is huge important in all movies. We want to see characters who behave like actual people do, so that we can relate to them. And while sometimes we like fluff about princesses and magic, we often want the stories themselves to seem like they might plausibly occur in real life, and to acknowledge the twists and turns that human lives navigate. (This is why romantic comedies really bug people a lot of the time, because they usually end right around the wedding scene and leave out the difficulties of staying married to that person for fifty years.) When a movie is called “realistic” (or “gritty” or “raw” or “bleak,” all of which I’m sure this movie was called a million times), it’s basically shorthand for the fact that it’s likely about poor people, with clipped, maybe-improvised dialogue, shot with handheld cameras. These movies are almost always sad, because life is sad for poor people who speak in clipped, maybe-improvised sentences. There’s nothing wrong with movies like this, per se; in fact, they're usually a lot better than the alternative. Blue Valentine appears to be one of those movies that show the fight scenes in the relationship, and accordingly I have dubbed it “realistic.”

My familiarity with this issue: I’ve not yet married. I’ve been in my share of relationships, though. We go through lots of them in our lives, most of which eventually don’t work out. Breakups are never easy. For the record, though, it's important to note that I was not to blame for any of mine. That is to say, it has always been the girl’s fault. Every single time. Weird, I know. It’s hard to identify any kind of recurring reason for this. I recall the phrase “intimidated by your masculinity” coming up once or twice. Usually the girl apologized profusely for all this. But hey, these things happen. I do hope that when I get married, it will be romantic and lovely and forever.

In Manhattan, Woody Allen’s character says, “I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.” I’m all about that, of course, but it’s important to note that back in the day when the divorce rate wasn’t as high, there were probably a lot more unhappy marriages that people suffered through. Really it’s not my business to worry about whether or not other people are happy in the first place, let alone how they achieve it. And to be honest, while the idea of spending the rest of your life with one person is a very romantic one, it’s also quite daunting. Particularly if that person snores. It's all very complex.

It should also be noted that I had the following conversation with brother of the blog Tony Krizel (who has not seen the movie, in case you’re wondering) before watching this movie:

Tony: ugh
blue valentine
another horrible one
me: gosling!
Tony: why would people see that
hipster gosling ukulele blue collar feelings bs
my review
me: haha
Tony: put that in the blog
me: that will go in the blog
Tony: i can't think of a movie i'd rather see less than blue valentine
even rabbit hole i'd see before that
why does this get made
purely for oscars
me: haha
i think it’ll be good
it’s realistic
there should be more realistic movies
instead of dumb romantic comedies
Tony: inception's realistic
me: i’m far more offended by stupid romantic fluff than stuff like blue valentine
Tony: i'm offended by misery porn
quote me on that
put that in the blog

It’s in the blog.

Plot summary yoinked from IMDb: “The film centers on a contemporary married couple, charting their evolution over a span of years by cross-cutting between time periods.” This is the longest plot summary they’ve got. Get it together, IMDb nerds. But it’s good, because I don’t really want to give away too much.

What I thought of the movie: Oof. BLEAK. Really really great, brilliantly acted and all that. But oh man is it a tough story. FOTB Joe Kirkwood mentioned to me while watching it, “I feel like I’ve lived these people's entire lives already,” and it’s true: the intensity of the movie’s focus on the two main characters is inescapable, even suffocating. You can’t help but feel crushed by the weight of their issues. In short, it’s a great date movie! And it’s got music by Sarah Palin’s favorite band, Grizzly Bear. (Note: I do not know the difference between Grizzly Bear and Panda Bear. All I know is that it's cool to like both of them.)

No but srsly. (I’m gonna keep the SPOILERS to a very minimum, I promise, because you all should see this and it’s out now.) The movie cuts back and forth between Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams’s courtship to several years later when they’re married. Gosling (a friend of the blog, by this point) straps on a gruff voice and a ukulele (and a chip on his shoulder) and becomes this dude who is alternately quite sweet and quite terrifying. And Michelle Williams, who I officially love now (acting-wise – she’s been awesome in Brokeback Mountain, Wendy and Lucy, and now this – and hotcha-hotcha-wise), has the quieter part but so completely and awesomely articulates her to us. Basically we understand everything about them both, and we see where they're both coming from and all that. 

I had a mini-rant about this with regards to Rabbit Hole last week, and it applies to this movie too: these types of "small," "intimate" movies are almost always pigeonholed  when it comes to  award consideration in such a way that the actors are really the only people that have any chance of getting recognized. And they obviously deserve it, but the direction of this movie (and Rabbit Hole) was pretty much perfect too. Derek Cianfrance, the director and co-writer of the film, who I had never heard of before, effortlessly switches back and forth between the courtship and the marriage. No matter how those actors are, if the story isn't real then we aren't gonna buy it. And as they struggled to make things work, I thought to myself whether the characters’ staying together or breaking up would constitute the more tragic ending to the movie (if it was going to be that cut and dry). I won’t tell you how it ends. But that's pretty rare that you're not really sure what you're "rooting for" in a movie. I feel like that really encapsulates how well the movie expresses the complexity of the relationship.

How I, John Krizel, related to the movie: First I thought we'd tackle the BOTB's critiques.

Hipster: Maybe. It does partially take place in Brooklyn. I feel like this is the type of movies that the hipsters would co-opt and try to take as their own. But maybe the people who made it are hipsters too (the soundtrack is certainly hip). There's no real way of knowing.
Gosling: Oh yes.
Ukulele: Yes. Gosling pulls it off well (and sings too, as seen in the trailer). I could relate to this. I’ve often used my musical abilities to attract the ladies (those among you who have seen me do karaoke are fully aware of what I'm talking about here). Gosling and I continue to have things in common.
Blue collar: Yes. Nothing to be too afraid of, though.
Feelings: Yeah but not in a fru-fru way.
BS: I disagree, but the man's entitled to his opinion.

So all in all, a pretty accurate review!

All of my earlier joking aside, the kind of issues that the characters in the movie are dealing with are far beyond any that I have yet experienced in a relationship. For me, it’s been like Katy Perry said: “We fight, we break up, we kiss, we make up.” No big deal. I may be hot then I’m cold, but never like BOILING. But these guys really get into it, and it never feels fabricated or trumped-up. When the stakes are as high as they are in the movie (for reasons that I won’t get into here), you’re dealing with the whole range of emotions here: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles.

I’ve always thought it was really difficult for movies to depict how two people would actually meet and decide to fall in love. (Except this scene, which is perfect.) It’s necessarily a longer process than however long a movie is. (With the possible exception of Titanic.) So, in a movie like this one, the idea is to pick and choose the stuff that helps us understand what the parameters of their relationship are going to be – how the seeds of discontent might have been sown from the beginning, even. While also being somewhat romantical. This movie does that well. I really liked that ukulele scene.

How I felt after the movie ended: FOTB Aly Seeberger thought to herself after watching the film, “I’m gonna go home and feel.” I second that. And it’s not like it destroyed my belief in true love or anything like that. It just sucks to know that two people – not really bad people, either of them – can get themselves into something so hopeless and sad. OK so maybe it does destroy my belief in true love. Sorry ladies.


  1. Just like hipsters co-opted Brooklyn in the first place, they're now taking ukuleles. I'll be damned if I let that happen.

    Here's my new review of the movie: maybe you should all go home and feel in Williamsburg. Blue collars are never non-threatening, by the way, no matter how many hoodies he wears over it.

  2. I agree with Tony. The hipsters can tear this ukulele out of my cold, dead hands