I opted for doomed young love (Blue Valentine) rather than cute one-liners last night (Morning Glory) and I think I'm glad I did. I'm not sure. The pre-Oscars hype suggested I'd be all over this but this tale left me feeling a bit hmmm, thoughtful. Like many good films, I'm not sure I liked it.
The premise is that we watch in real time the demise of Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy's (Michelle Williams) young marriage while experiencing flashbacks to happier times when their love first blossomed.
Director Derek Cianfrance’s chose to shoot the real-time scenes with this dull, blue filter which has the effect of washing out the colour, making their world seems as drab and lifeless as their love for each other. Or as one critic said, "as if the celluloid itself has been quietly weeping".
We contrast this with the more vibrant, crisp, clearer flashbacks from happier times before. Of note, are the end credits which have a wonderful firework metaphor - colours of light burst out and reveal happy photos of Dean & Cindy which instantly fade away with the phosphorescent light.
My problem with the film is that Cianfrance took 12 years to make this and, I think, still didn't quite get it right. The contrast should have been more pronounced. Flashbacks, like all memories need to have a slight nostalgic, dream-like, fading and rose-tinted feel - they should be more intense in colour, vague in detail.
Every failed relationship has a longing for the past - a longing where our memories conveniently wipe out the annoying habits, the irritating sayings, the boring hum-drum days and replace it all with perfection, witty conversations and endless excitement.
Dean lives for his 'honeymoon' world. His job at the removal company means he knows the drag of carrying baggage - he's only interested in the purity of love - it's uplifting, light and freeing feeling. So once reality kicks in he struggles to accept Cindy as the girl she really is. One who had huge potential which was taken away in an instant, literally - sperm travels fast. He longs for the pedestal moments, where he visualised perfection, true love at first sight, all the things (he admits) are down to watching too many Hollywood movies. Cindy on the other hand is frustrated with life - she envies Dean's freedom and despises that he is uninterested in it.
While Dean is stuck in the past, Cindy by contrast is routed in the depressing present. Something she's aware of, and seemingly, Dean is not - as shown by his misguided attempt to rekindle their spark with a disastrous night in the (ironically named) Future Room.
The biggest question though is what went wrong? Cianfrance is successful in showing that falling out of love can be as mysterious as falling in love. The ending is suitably vague. Cindy screams for a divorce while Dean throws his wedding ring away, but his immediate regret and her help to locate this symbol suggest they might just be in the eye of the storm. Who knows. It's refreshing to see some genuine, well acted, carefully written drama on the big screen. Hurrah.
I think I'll give it 4 out of 5, even if just for Williams excellent performance (she can REALLY play hurt, defiance and grief well).