If you have ever seen  The Notebook (2004) on your own free will or otherwise,  found it cliche ridden, unrealistic, and downright vapid; and wished for something more down to earth, Blue Valentine might be your romance to see in 2011.  Then again, if mundane melodrama is not your cup of tea, then this portrayal of a realistic, albeit failing romance might effectively bore you to wishing for the same cliches that you thought you were escaping by going to see this movie.  In other words: be careful of what you wish for.

Blue Valentine is David Cianfrance’s second feature film and his first to be widely released in theaters.  A film that has spent several years on the drafting board, Blue Valentine explores the realities of romance, parenthood, and how sometimes they don’t mix well.  The Notebook favorite Ryan Gosling joins Michelle Williams of Dawson’s Creek and Broke Back Mountain fame.  Take Gosling’s Notebook character, put him in an urban modern day environment, add in a bottle of Jack Daniels and top it off with a few four letter profanities and you’ve effectively got Dean, a husband in a failing marriage.  Michelle Williams’ character and other half of the film’s couple, Cindy, is not quite original and yet more than meets the eye.  The two are in a marital quagmire and are in a relationship held together by their seeming desire to provide a happy life for their young daughter.  Realism is the motif of Blue Valentine, and rather than give us a stylized star studded portrayal of a failing marriage – Ala Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road – Cianfrance takes us to places we might find familiar and with people we could very well know.  Gosling and Williams portray these roles admirably and naturally, almost to the point of one feeling like they have heard it before, not in a movie but perhaps from the neighbors across the street.  This is both the high and low point for Blue Valentine; the characters seem to real and mundane, the issues as old as relationships.  The film takes the viewer back and forth between flashbacks of the young couple first meeting and beginning their relationship and their unhappy lives in the present.  Gosling’s attempt to rekindle the terms of endearment between the couple is sad indeed, a scene particularly noteworthy for its acting, yet one that makes you cringe at the same time.  Rewind to the past and we  see Gosling serenade Michelle Williams with a Ukulele and an exaggerated – yet quite good – voice, a scene not unlike one found in The Notebook.  These scenes overlap each other, constantly see-sawing your feelings from happy to sad.  As a drama it is a great portrayal of what might be happening to you or your down the street neighbors, as a “love story” (poster slogan) this movie will certainly not put you in a happy place, not for long at least.

It truly great mainstream feature for Director Cianfrance, with great portrayals by Gosling and Williams that will surely get nominated for a few awards.  Both of these actors have developed their craft beginning from a young age and neither disappoints here.   The trouble comes with the viewer.  This movie is not for everyone.  Certainly everyone can view it and appreciate/understand it and perhaps even relate to it.  The problem is not everyone wants to appreciate a story about a failing marriage between two very mundane people, myself included.  While it certainly has substance it does lack some style found in bigger budget romance/drama’s, that may not be a deterrent for some, but coupled with the subject matter it could be a deal breaker. I would probably not recommend anyone on a date to see this film lest you want to find yourself trying to awkwardly piece together the rest of the evening -Indie-drama nuts need not apply.  If you are looking for a film with great down to earth performances then this film is worth a look.