there’s been a trend in film for the last [enter number] years to achieve a state of realism so profound that we forget we’re watching a film. many efforts succeed in achieving this end. some struggle to find that balance between plausibility and necessary conflict for compelling drama. regardless of the success of the effort it is a style that film goers must now contend with more frequently. in the not too distant future we will be watching people read books or sleep for 90 minutes in our award-winning films.
‘blue valentine’ is relentlessly focused on presenting ‘the real’. Dean and Cindy are a believable couple, with believable life circumstances, needs, flaws, inaudible mumbling and . . . facial expressions? the film is mostly concerned with the movement from ecstatic love to unconquerable disappointment in life. we watch the present day couple in their awkward and discomfiting exchanges of missed eroticism, miscommunication, and vague attempts at reconciliation. we also see the couple in their heyday when they first met surrounding Cindy’s pregnancy from a previous relationship. the film is filled with the fraught drama that surrounds new couples and these kind of a “raw” and “real” people.
while achieving realism is commendable it begs the question how it benefits film or an audience? often people argue that art doesn’t have to have a purpose, and perhaps that’s true, but for the sake of discussion let’s ignore that reductive argument. if realism’s purpose is to show an audience life as it is, why not watch a documentary? if realism’s purpose is to show life under a microscope, perhaps give us something extraordinary. for successful drama show the characters involved at the most important juncture of their lives. if the most important event of a life is “breaking up, because you fell out of love, just because!” well, the audience is left wondering why they needed to invest energy in indecisive and emotionally lazy people. there’s plenty of that in real real life.
where ‘blue valentine’ succeeds in achieving commendable performances, visually striking cinematography, consistency of tone, it is wanting in the “why?” department. there’s not enough investment in what made this relationship so special other than an intriguing social quirkiness that each found attractive. simultaneously there’s not enough investment in what made the relationship sour other than vague hints at alcoholism, ennui, and loss of sexual attraction/desire. in short, this film serves as a set piece for good actors to give fine and real performances, but without a compelling story or a recognizably important conflict this becomes a fruitless and frankly exhausting exercise.
love is (in)arguably the most explored theme in drama, so to stand apart from the crowd something has to be at stake. something unexplored. something profound. and “just because”, feels like a (mumble) waste of time.