Sundance: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams show you what acting is all about in the wrenching 'Blue Valentine'

No movie I’ve seen at Sundance this year conjures the possibilities — or the current, gloom-and-doom marketplace environment — of independent film more powerfully than Blue Valentine. A lushly touching, wrenching, and beautifully told story, directed by Derek Cianfrance with a mood of entwined romantic dreams and romantic loss, it stars Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as Dean and Cindy, a young, semi-working-class couple who meet, fall in love, get married, raise a little daughter, and lose their spark, though not necessarily in that order. Among other things, the movie fractures time with elegant originality.

There are moments in Blue Valentine that make you melt, like the one where Gosling, on what is basically the couple’s first date, stops at a storefront and does some weird sort of awful/charming Elvis impersonation, singing “You Always Hurt the One You Love” as he accompanies himself on the ukulele, while Williams dances a happy little jig; you can see them locking souls, literally falling in love at that instant. And there are moments that tear you apart, like one set several years later in the doctor’s office where Williams’ Cindy works, with Dean, now a morning drinker with a receding hairline, busting into the place to argue with her, and everyone looking at him like he’s crazy, and us realizing that he’s not crazy but that he may now be a loser, too desperate to stop hurting the one he loves.

This is harrowing yet delicate drama, the portrait of a relationship coming into being and, when the two spend a night at a tacky theme motel, fighting to stay alive. Yet Blue Valentine has a languid and exacting pace, and for a movie that wears its blue heart on its sleeve, it goes to surprisingly dark places. (It’s also a shade too long; some artful trimming would be advised.) In all the conversations I’ve had about the film, even a lot of people who responded to it as I did have said, in essence, “What sort of chance does this movie have in the real world?”

No one, including me, doubts that Blue Valentine will land a distributor. With stars like Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams giving performances that sear, delight, and break your heart, it would be sheer madness if this movie languished — and, frankly, it won’t happen. But I think what people are really asking is a question about the audience: How many moviegoers today, even those who seek out independent films, are going to want to spend two hours tasting the bittersweet vibe of this sad, troubled marriage?

The movie took me back to a time, three decades ago, when troubled-marriage movies were all the rage, even in Hollywood: searching domestic psychodramas like Shoot the Moon and Kramer vs. Kramer and Smash Palace. I wouldn’t, offhand, say that Blue Valentine is a better film, yet in certain ways it catches the doleful, biting rhythms and smiley-sad sentimental music of a faltering marriage with greater intimacy. There are real demons here: alcohol abuse, a pregnancy wrapped around a lie. Yet there is also an appreciation for how even very imperfect people can lunge for love as if it were air. In this movie, Gosling and Williams act without a net, and Derek Cianfrance proves a filmmaker of rare sensitivity. I predict he’ll go far, and Blue Valentine, whatever the new, handwringing forces of indie marketing decree, deserves to be the movie that takes him a good part of the way there.

More from Owen Gleiberman at Sundance 2010:
The Runaways: Kristen Stewart and Dakota Fanning rock out
Douchebag: A low-budget twentysomething slacker comedy — that’s actually good!
Sundance 2010 documentaries: Casino Jack and the United States of Money; Smash His Camera; Restrepo
The Company Men: A juicy drama of downsized corporate executives
Howl and Nowhere Boy: The fascinating early days of Allen Ginsberg and John Lennon
Sundance 2010: Change you can believe in?

More from EW at Sundance 2010:
Sundance 2010: Exclusive star portraits from the EW photo studio
Ryan Reynolds’ Buried sold to Lionsgate

Comments (36 total) Add your comment
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  • tara

    saw this @ sundance…absolutely riveting stuff, difficult at times to swallow, particularly given the runtime, but williams and gosling are sensational. personal bests for each of them.

    • Terry

      Sounds like yet another horribly smug, self-important 500Days Of Summer-style romance. When will indie directors realize that to make a good film you don’t have to be all precious, gimmicky, and try so hard to be “cute”…a solid script, solid actors and solid directing will do. These people are trying so hard to be “cool” that they end up with insufferably unwatchable drivel that actually thinks it’s smart, like 500 Days wit

  • Celia

    I can’t wait to see this movie! Ryan and Michelle are two of my favorite actors! :D

    • superso

      me, too!

  • alex

    is there a trailer for this yet? if so, could EW please post?

    • Mary Q. Contrary

      No trailer. It hasn’t been picked up for distribution yet.

  • hanna

    This is probably premature considering we don’t even have Oscar noms for this year’s films, but my money is on Gosling to pick up a few awards for his heart-wrenching performance in this movie. Everyone was buzzing about it.

  • Mia

    Well, although Revolutionary Road didn’t get a lot of viewers, it did get a lot of awards last year, and I don’t think you can find a movie more about the depressing dissolution of a marriage.

    • Zach

      oh, but that one sucked. this sounds much better.

      • GS

        My thoughts exactly Zach!

      • Gabby

        It didn’t “suck,” but it didn’t totally fulfill its potential either. And I thought Kate Winslet’s character was a bit of a cliche, and she deserved better. Michael Shannon turned in a phenomenal performance, though.

  • Amelia

    I love Ryan Gosling- sometimes he is too talented for words. Can’t wait to see this!

  • Sarah

    Wow, this movie sounds really good! Can’t wait to see it!

  • Gwen

    These two are becoming the most talented actors of their generation. So impressed with them!

    • Katyo

      I’d have to agree with you on that, Gwen. I can’t wait to see this film.

  • Tim

    Haven’t seen this movie, but love both actors. Just watched an interview with the director, Cianfrance, on Hulu. It sounds interesting, can’t wait until it hits theaters.

  • Mary Q. Contrary

    Can’t wait to see this one. Some of my favorite films, including my husband’s, are wrenching indies about love and loss. If done right, they can absolutely wreak havoc with my emotions, which is something that only happens when a film is actually doing it’s job. Plus, I love Ryan Gosling and Michele Williams. I mean, they kind of seemed destined to work together at some point. Hopefully this won’t be their last pairing, because I’ve heard their chemistry is off the charts.

  • elena

    I will watch ryan gosling in absofreakin’lutely anything. he’s amazing. someone else said this sounds very revolutionary road-esque, but I hope it’s not. I hope it blows rev road away.

  • Elle

    I would watch these two in just about anything. I think they are going to be one of the best actors of their generation.

  • Nix

    Nobody could have cast Gosling and Williams and not expect distribution of some sort.

  • Ashley

    I love this sort of movie and I have a feeling Im not the only one. No, it won’t make much money buy at least get it released in Indianapolis!

  • bjing

    This movie will kick Avatars a$$

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