PLOT: An intimate look at a crumbling marriage.
BOTTOM LINE: Almost bruisingly powerful, with intense performances from Gosling and Williams.
CAST: Ryan Gosling, Michelle Williams, Faith Wladyka
WHEN/WHERE: Showtimes and tickets
Briefly stamped with an NC-17 rating, "Blue Valentine" features more than one intimate scene between a husband and wife in a tawdry love motel. By the time their night is over, however, the "blue" in the title takes on a less prurient, more traditional meaning. This is one of the saddest movies you will ever see.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play Dean and Cindy, a youngish couple with a daughter, Frankie (6-year-old Faith Wladyka of Malverne). The film introduces them in the middle of a workday morning rush - a perfect time to observe any family's trouble spots - when Cindy is cranky and Dean is happily entertaining their daughter. He only dimly picks up his wife's signals.
His solution: Drop the kid at her grandparents' and book a night in the "Future Room," decorated like a pornographic version of "Star Wars." This does not turn Cindy's frown upside down. As the relationship worsens by the minute, the film also looks backward in time - a shy first date, a happy wedding - to underscore the increasing sorrow.
Gosling and Williams are utterly, painfully convincing as a couple driving itself apart, but writer-director Derek Cianfrance unfairly chooses a side. Dean is a devoted father and loving husband whose worst crime is cluelessness; Cindy is a sullen grouch. At times, the film feels like one man's long list of grievances. Still, "Blue Valentine" has a rare emotional intensity. There is no way to prepare for its final frames, inevitable as they are.