I did not go see Blue Valentine with the goal of writing a review. It was only after I did my traditional backtracking on Rotten Tomatoes (a site that provides an exhaustive cross section of the "important" and less well known movie reviewers that many readers across the nation are exposed to) that I got my writer's squirm.
The need to discuss this particular movie was born out of an exasperation brought on by my belief that the majority of reviewers of this film missed (or ignored) some of the real messages of the picture, as presented intentionally or subconsciously by the writer and director, Derek Cianfrance.
Should movie criticism merely regard the plot, mood or even the objective "quality" of any given piece? I think not. The articles I have read so far are mostly pro with just few cons. This is not what concerns me.
Blue Valentine is not just about people marrying too young, having nothing in common or falling in and out of love, although these issues have been beaten to death by our nation's writers. It is not about the supposedly overly hot sex scenes, which have garnered much concern by our "censors."
Blue Valentine is about a few other things. The characters' inability see your way out of the patterns your parents have set for them (not an uncommon theme, for sure) and the more interesting meditation on the vastly underrated value of a male's ability to love and nurture. Cindy (the overly and sometimes annoyingly internal Michelle Williams) and Dean (the emotionally naked Ryan Gosling) are married with one lovely child. While mommy is all business when it comes to caring for the child and working in a medical office, daddy has a way of using his ability to identify with the child's spirit, an invaluable, under-rated asset, in my book.
His skills are exemplified by his way of coaxing the girl to eat her mother's unappetizing breakfast off the table by reenacting a jungle scene. Perhaps not as neatly as the mother would want, but the mission is accomplished as the girl starts eating her water laden oatmeal with gusto. It's not that daddy is a bum either, but he does march to the beat of his own drum -- or beer bottle. The man works, albeit as a house painter or a mover, and he does his share for his customers and his family. In the most touching flash back of the film, Dean, a mover at the time, performs a service for a customer that is unheard of -- and symbolic of his moral character. He actually unpacks an elderly veteran's memorabilia and displays his keepsakes lovingly in the man's otherwise lonely room at the old age home. My friend and I were deeply moved by this act of compassion.
The deal with Cindy is that she is unhappy with her innately creative and talented husband's unwillingness to join the rat race (think of The Razor's Edge in a trailer home). The real truth is that she is something of a masochist as she shows a need or expectation to be abused. She was brought up by a father berating her loving mother's scary looking cooking (she seems to take after her mother in that respect) and the general contempt that he holds for her. Cindy was shown in flashback consorting with an uncaring lout in high school, who not only takes her sexually without looking at her -- he carelessly avoids using protection in his disregard for her. Upon seeking an abortion she admits to having over 20 sexual partners after losing her virginity at 13.
In one of the few negative reviews of Blue Valentine the Village Voice's critic, Karina Longworth scorns this scene as outright misogyny. While I respect her dissenting voice, I reject that particular notion. Cindy's actions appear as a girl who has never really seen love. One who has debased herself by letting herself get taken advantage of. Her first action involving self respect is to tell the condom avoiding creep to buzz off.
Later on, during the death of her marriage she unsuccessfully attempts to persuade Dean to strike her, something that belies his gentle nature. Don't get me wrong, this man in no wimp. He is a hardworking blue collar guy who loves his beer and cigarettes, but takes care of his family as well as any Wall Street millionaire can. He just loves his wife and kid and wants to keep it simple. I am not making him out to be a saint or even believable, but that's how Derek Cianfrance presents him.
What is a man's worth in society? If she was so truly ambitions as painted by the other reviewers, what could be better than having a husband who is down with taking care of the kid? Do we females still need our men to be "Masters of the Universe" as Tom Wolfe put it so well in The Bonfire of the Vanities? So much for the women's movement -- maybe the men need one as well. Perhaps he should have just given her the smack she probably longed for after losing (she carelessly left the gate open) their dog. Women cannot have their cake and eat it (and not gain weight) even though we sure have been manipulated into believing our ability or obligation to be Superwoman. These are the real questions that the movie brings up.
In a world where no matter how much feminism has supposedly achieved, a man's worth seems to still be tied into his ability to provide a women with her self-worth by his career accomplishments, rather than the quality of his heart and spirit. Perhaps if Cindy had married one of those hotshots they would not have been able to give their child the magical love provided to her by Dean. And for God's sake, is it so hard to put out for Ryan Gosling! Well, it is a movie after all.
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