Acting not enough

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Friday, January 7, 2011 12:01am
  • Life

It’s never certain whether a ratings controversy helps or hurts a movie. The merits of “Blue Valentine” might be overshadowed by curiosity about its initial NC-17 rating, which was earned for sexual content.

Or, possibly, more people might see the picture because they heard it had some hot stuff in it. You never know.

In any case, the rating was adjusted, and “Blue Valentine” has an R now. Beyond all this, there is a movie in here, and a rather serious, ambitious one at that, featuring two actors working at probable Oscar-nominee levels.

The film operates on two parallel tracks: one depicting the unhappy weekend spent by a couple trying to recapture some closeness in their marriage, the other showing the courtship of the same couple a few years earlier.

The courtship scenes have the freshness of people leading simple lives and finding each other. Cindy (Michelle Williams) is studying for nursing school, Dean (Ryan Gosling) is a music-minded guy with a job moving furniture. One large complication, involving Cindy’s old boyfriend, shifts the coloring of their romance.

A few years later, Dean and Cindy take a road trip and spend a night in a dreary “love motel,” taking a boozy stab at finding each other.

Director Derek Cianfrance shapes this as an actors’ showcase, and that turns out to be both the film’s strength and its weakness. Williams and Gosling are actors capable of finding strikingly honest ways into their characters, as she proved in “Wendy and Lucy” and he did in “Half Nelson.”

They create many touching moments between them. According to the actors the movie was partly improvised, and you can feel that in the texture of the exchanges between them.

Unfortunately, improvisation has its pitfalls. For instance, Gosling is an inventive actor who can be very busy in his performances (he gives himself a bad receding hairline and goofy glasses in the latter-day parts of this film), and his improv attack can be aggressive.

Watching him improvise with Michelle Williams, who uses a much more interior style of acting, is like watching a show-off dominate a partner in a drama school exercise. Now, if this perfectly matched the characters, it might seem less like noodling, but I’m not sure it really fits these people.

With that caveat noted, “Blue Valentine” comes up with a handful of memorably heartrending moments. If husband and wife could just budge a little from their stances, you think, this marriage (which involves a child) might move on. But they are who they are, and that’s the sad part.

“Blue Valentine”

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling give committed performances in a story told in two parallel parts: a courtship and the breakup of a marriage a few years later. The film’s improvisation distracts from the characters, muddying the otherwise heartrending situation(s).

Rated: R for nudity, language, subject matter

Showing: Alderwood Mall, Thornton Place, Egyptian

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