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Scenes from a Marriage

Oscar nominated ‘Blue Valentine’; plus downsizing in ‘Company Men.’

By Lori Hoffman
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 16, 2011

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Michelle Williams, Ryan Gosling in 'Blue Valentine.'

After watching the film festival hit Blue Valentine, written and directed by Derek Cianfrance, I was puzzled by the fact that Michelle Williams was nominated for an Academy Award but Ryan Gosling failed to receive a nod. Both give fine performances but it was his performance that was the most compelling.

Going into a low budget independent film, a viewer must have a different mindset than standard Hollywood fare. You have to be patient, understanding that the story might unfold in what feels like real time without the manipulation of a Hollywood fastbreak plot. The lighting might be less than pristine (Blue Valentine is a bit murky) and the point might not jump right out at you. Such is the case with Blue Valentine. You might wonder at first why we should care about these rather ordinary, blue collar lovers whose marriage is crumbling due to a lack of ambition and unfulfilled expectations. Love is a minor component when the everyday grind of surviving together overwhelms the spark that first brought them together.

This working class American take on Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From A Marriage takes us back and forth in time to provide insights on the current relationship between Dean (Gosling) and Cindy (Williams). At first the fact that the story has slipped into the past doesn’t register, but eventually one gets into the rhythm of the time shifts.

The Cindy and Dean we first see are at the bitter end of their relationship. As the film slips back in time and reveals the nature of the courtship, we begin to understand why this is a marriage worth saving even if there seems to be no chance of a reconciliation. We see their flaws but also their sweetness. In particular, the more we know about Dean and what he did for Cindy, the more we like him. He has no ambition beyond loving his wife and daughter Frankie. Ironically, it is his total devotion to his family and lack of interest in a career that will eventually make Cindy feel she can’t stay with him.

A last ditch attempt to stay together results in a sad and bitterly comic rendezvous at a cheesy sex motel with an outer space theme. The absurdity of the room and the notion that this would work is followed by a drunken bout of lovemaking that punctuates the end of their marriage.

Gosling might have the saddest eyes in Hollywood, and he uses them to superb effect as he desperately tries to win back the family that makes his life bearable. Williams is also excellent as a woman who exploited Dean’s devotion early on in their relationship. Eventually, however, she concludes that she can’t live with him.

Writer-director Cianfrance, who co-wrote the screenplay with Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis, has made a film that starts slowly but as the layers of background are revealed becomes more and more interesting, with an effective emotional payoff.

 

Job Insecurity

The Company Men is about the recession and how even rich white men are getting axed. It was written and directed by veteran TV producer John Wells (The West Wing, ER, Third Watch) and gets in a few knocks about how these men of privilege can’t quite believe they have to humiliate themselves with a job search and giving up their fancy cars and their fancy homes. Ben Affleck is convincing as a real jerk who stays in denial when he loses is 120K job. He loves his things, but his patient wife (Rosemarie DeWitt from Mad Men), is the one who can’t pay the mortgage. Tommy Lee Jones, Chris Cooper, Kevin Coster, Craig T. Nelson and Maria Bello also star in this film, which doesn’t provide many insights beyond the standard clichés of dusting yourself off and starting over again. It almost feels like a pilot for a TV series that could be titled “White Collar Blues.” While I might find it engaging on the small screen, on the big screen it feels rather thin.

Blue Valentine

***

Directed by Derek Cianfrance; rated R

 

The Company Men

**

Written & directed by John Wells; rated R

How did you like either of these two movies?

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