Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams play blue-collar Pennsylvanian couple Dean and Cindy. He’s feckless and un-ambitious, content to drift along in life, but a loving father to the couple’s adorable young daughter, Frankie (scene-stealer Faith Wladyka). She’s a highly competent nurse, more driven than her husband, whom she has clearly outgrown.
We observe Dean’s desperate attempts to save the marriage over a 24-hour period (including a painfully sad night spent in the ‘future room’ of a tacky love motel), but we also see flashback scenes of their early courtship and marriage. These sequences, shot with a giddily exhilarated hand-held camera on super 16mm film, show us why and how they got together, but also suggest why their relationship was doomed from the start.
Director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance’s film, developed over a number of years and partly improvised, doesn’t apportion blame to either partner, but its unsparing scrutiny of the couple’s all too-human weaknesses is painfully honest and sometimes uncomfortable to watch.
Gosling and Williams, both brilliant, have been nominated for Golden Globes and they will both be strong Oscar contenders too.
Blue Valentine goes on general release from 14th January.