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December 29, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Fresh off their victory in persuading the MPAA ratings board to reduce the rating of Blue Valentine from NC-17 to R, the Weinstein Brothers are receiving much critical praise for the film as it opens in limited release today (Wednesday), in time for Oscar consideration. Betsy Sharkey in the Los Angeles Times calls the film, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, “an unsettling portrait of marriage as failed enterprise and broken dreams, the tears over the scattered shards hard-earned.” Like other critics, she piles praise high on the performances of Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling. As for the sex scene that initially triggered the NC-17 rating, Sharkey writes, “the truth is: The emotional bond the actors have forged throughout is what gives the film its intimacy.”

Ryan Gosling/Michelle Williams

Liam Lacey in the Toronto Globe and Mail echoes that view, writing, “Gosling and Williams bring a painful authenticity to this portrait of intimacy turned to alienation.” Claudia Puig in USA Today also credits the two stars for bringing to life two difficult characters. “Gosling and Williams have the most palpable chemistry of any screen couple this year, never striking a false note in this achingly tender tale of a love that implodes before our eyes,” she writes. As for the MPAA’s original rating, she comments: “To diminish this poignant film by focusing on a few graphic scenes — all contextual and never gratuitous — would be glaringly unfair.” Roger Moore in the Orlando Sentinel adds: “A film made notorious because of a needless ratings dust-up over its not-all-that sex scenes, the well-acted, generally engrossing Blue Valentine doesn’t blink when the going gets tough, and doesn’t romanticize that first blush of attraction, affection and love.” Kyle Smith in the New York Post regards the film as a “melancholy work” but says that “it rises far above the expected, on all levels, as Cianfrance’s unforced acuity invests every detail with importance. And Williams and Gosling are exceptionally moving.” Rex Reed in the New York Observer was clearly affected by their portrayals, writing, “This is not a feel-good movie, but I took it away with me, racked by feelings of emotional intensity that still linger. Blue Valentine is about real life, warts and all, over narrative conventions like action and plot mechanics. It is brutal, compassionate, beautiful in its ugliness and one of the bravest films of the year.” Not all the reviews are accolades, however. The two actors play younger and older versions of their characters, but without seeing what has occurred between young and old, some critics suggest, it’s hard to determine, as A.O. Scott observes in the New York Times, “what connects one to the other.” Scott notes that, in particular, the “drinking and the violent temper [Gosling’s character] displays in one overwrought climactic scene seem to come from nowhere, to be willed into being by the director’s narrative conceit rather than arising organically from the character’s life.” And Stephen Rea in the Philadelphia Inquirer uses the same adjective, “overwrought,” to describe the movie as a whole and concludes that it is “ultimately too painful, too labored, to care much about at all.”