Review in a Hurry: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play a couple whose marriage is gradually falling apart, but not for any particular reason. Things just aren't working out. In flashbacks, we see the love begin, while in the present day, they both rage against the death of the spark. Both actors are reliably great, and their cinematic pairing, which in hindsight, seems to have been fated, is all that it should be.
The Bigger Picture: Blue Valentine caused some controversy with an initial NC-17 rating that has since been successfully appealed following some heavy Weinstein Company lobbying. But here's the thing: Unfair stigma aside, this isn't a film for viewers under 17, not so much because of sexual content, but because it takes some life experience to fully appreciate that which is being depicted herein.
Williams' Cindy is shown early on eating a donut while driving and blasting Pat Benatar's "We Belong" on the stereo...only to be interrupted by the sight of her dead dog on the side of the road. This pretty much sets the tone for what is to come: moments of complete belonging, interrupted by a reality that doesn't cooperate with what you'd like it to be.
Gosling's Dean appears to have a hairline constantly in motion, but it soon becomes clear that this is because the story is jumping back and forth in time, beginning with his days at a moving company, where he meets Cindy while relocating an old man to a nursing home. The young duo bond over dirty jokes and bad singing, while in the altogether harsher light of the present day, they're desperately trying to rekindle the romance in a hideous, sci-fi-themed motel room.
She works; he drinks...neither to dysfunctional excess, but we get the impression that 10 years down the road, things could go that way. She has a daughter that he adores, and wants nothing more than to be a good father to, but this is also an issue for Cindy; he literally wants nothing more, having no career ambition at all.
Early screenings of the film have divided audiences on which partner is most at fault for the relationship ending, but the brilliance of writer-director Derek Cianfrance is that he makes it truly the fault of neither...or both. Cindy and Dean are both good people with flaws. That the viewer can come away taking either side, or no side at all, is what marks Blue Valentine as a truly mature look at love lost. While it is often an overused cliché by stuffy critics, this truly is a movie for grown-ups.
The 180—a Second Opinion: The marketing for the movie, along with the ratings dispute, suggests something raunchy and more akin to Basic Instinct. Viewers expecting that sort of thing will be disappointed and bummed out by the buzz kill.