(Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in Derek Cianfrance's film)
The stars aligned this week, and, in what's amounting to a biannual foray, I went to the cinema. "Blue Valentine" was the draw. I'd been sucked in by the hype - and not just from the critic-barons; I also got a recommendation from a real, live friend.
The film documents two discrete relationship-slices: when Cindy (Williams) and Dean (Gosling) first meet and fall in love, and four to five years later, when they are in the fog and rage of their marriage. Director Derek Cianfrance, in unceremoniously cutting between the two moments in time, suggests that the lust of discovery and the rut of familiarity are but two sides of the same coin.
I'll agree with what's been said about the film's very fine acting (Gosling, with his boyish ingenuousness, is particularly well-suited to his role) and its refreshingly complicated portrayal of love. But I was frustrated by its take on gender. Maybe one of the reasons that I don't go to the movies too often is that it's hard to find anything in which female characters have as much personality and depth as their male counterparts. (The same claim could obviously be leveled against the theatre, but maybe I just have more luck finding plays that are the exception to the rule.) All too often, even in independent films, female characters are defined exclusively by their ditziness, their aloofness, or their ambition. (Williams' role is unquestionably centered on the third.) It is the fuller, more nuanced male characters who say the lines we remember, who remind us of ourselves or of people we know.
Leaving the theater, I remembered that the director, two of the three screenwriters, and all three people who'd recommended "Blue Valentine" to me were male. I shared this thought with my male companion and asked him if he thought that the relative lack of women involved in our moviegoing might have accounted for the two hours we'd just spent with a well-made film about a boring lady. His response surprised me: He was feeling similarly disappointed by the male characters, every one of whom, he pointed out, uses violence to dominate the women in his life. Somehow, in my obsessive tabulation of which good lines went to which character, I'd missed this blatantly gendered pattern of abuse. Evidently, I'd assumed it natural, even unremarkable, that men in film should resort to violence.
But now I think my friend and I were just reacting to the same thing from different points of view: The imbalanced way with which "Blue Valentine" deals with gender felt dated, almost primitive - decidedly opposed to the way we prefer to see the world.