Last night we watched Blue Valentine, a miserable desolation of the human spirit film starring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. Emma loves both of those actors, and also miserable desolation of the human spirit films, and has been desperate to see Blue Valentine since it was at Cannes last year. We missed it in the cinema, probably largely to do with my lack of enthusiasm, and DVD release seemed to take forever. But yesterday it arrived courtesy of LoveFilm, and so Emma finally got to see it.
And actually, I quite enjoyed it; both Gosling and Williams are convincing actors, capable of moving from disarming charm to upsetting emotional incapacity, which is what the story required (the story being an intercut, non-linear narrative of them falling in love and, years later, falling apart). There had been much talk from some parts of the film’s sauciness, due mainly to a scene in which Gosling’s character performs oral sex on Williams’ character; it’s a sad state of affairs when the image of a man pleasuring a woman in this way is seen as outrageously raunchy and a little taboo, while the inverse is so commonplace as to be mundane.
But I did have a problem with Blue Valentine, to be honest. Not with the callousness that Williams and Gosling showed to each other come the end, brought about, no doubt, by Williams’ character’s view of her own parents’ loveless marriage, wherein men do not ever do nice things for women, and thus women do not ever deserve to have nice things done for them (the root of much cognitive dissonance for her when faced with Gosling’s character’s selfless/selfish lack of ambition to be anything other than a husband and a father, despite his capacity for other achievement), or even with the fact that Williams’ character thus supplicated herself at every turn, and thus denied herself identity and happiness (as well as giving up her ambition to be a doctor, admittedly due to harsh circumstances and a wish to do the right thing, she also, in love scenes with both Gosling’s character and a former boyfriend, only ever receives or offers to be receptive; she never gives, or asks, or wants for herself, either sexually or emotionally).
No, the problem I had with Blue Valentine was Grizzly Bear, who soundtracked the film. I like Grizzly Bear a lot, but hearing snatches of their music, re-arranged, shorn of vocals, etcetera, that were naggingly familiar and yet also strange and unfamiliar, left me thinking about the music rather than the film. Unlike a purpose-written score, or occasional usage of individual, recognizable songs (in either diegetic or non-diegetic form), this re-purposing and slight alteration of music to make it half familiar seemed to work against both music and story. I don’t think Grizzly Bear will suffer the same bleak “synching” fate as suggested
as in this Quietus article (which is a decent thinkpiece, but lacks the evidence to support its assertions), but it certainly detracted from my enjoyment of Blue Valentine’s miserable desolation of the human spirit.