Bittersweet romance

Michelle Williams as Cindy and Ryan Gosling as Dean in Blue Valentine
Michelle Williams as Cindy and Ryan Gosling as Dean in Blue Valentine

A film about a couple whose relationship is falling apart and a typically tough role for Hilary Swank are reviewed by Ian Soutar

THERE are two sides to every argument and likewise a disintegrating marriage and Blue Valentine (Cert 15) is one of those films where your sympathies ebb and flow. Or they do for a while.

The film charts the six years in the relationship of Cindy and Dean (Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling), starting at the point where it is about to fall apart intercut with flashbacks to the time when they first meet and fall in love.

Our first impression is that Cindy is sullen and can barely conceal a contempt for Dean, a clearly loving father to their cheery little daughter but soon revealed as a bit of a layabout who drinks too much.

Not a criminal offence but we see the warning signs even in those heady days of cute courtship – tap-dancing in a shop doorway, happy sex – in the wayward behaviour of Dean which amuses Cindy then but has become a source of simmering resentment. By the end we too have lost patience with Dean’s inability to wise up.

And this is where the film’s ambition to be a portrait of an ordinary modern marriage in decline falls down.

Dean is not alone in being a man with flaws, every significant male character that Cindy must deal with is a complete jerk.

There is Cindy’s previous abusive and violent boyfriend (Mike Vogel), her unbelievably bad-tempered father (John Doman) and the feckless doctor colleague (Ben Shenkman) who starts hitting on her.

Still, there are few better than Michelle Williams in portraying long-suffering women – and sadly her own life has had its trials with her ill-starred and ultimately tragic relationship with Heath Ledger.

And it is the brave and raw performances by both Williams and Gosling, who evolves from chirpy ukelele-playing idealist to chippy balding no-hoper, that make this film directed by Derek Cianfrance worth seeing.

An actress noted for playing strong women who battle against the odds is two-times Oscar winner, Hilary Swank.

Her most noted roles have been real-life characters such as the transgender Brandon Teena in Boys Don’t Cry, boxer Maggie Fitzgerald in Million Dollar Baby, aviator Amelia Earhart in Amelia and now Betty Anne Waters in Conviction (Cert 15).

Betty Anne was an unemployed high school dropout and a struggling single mother of two when her older brother Kenny was arrested for murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1983.

Convinced of the truth of his protestation of innocence, she put herself through high school, college and finally law school in an 18-year quest to achieve justice.

Directed by Tony Goldwyn, it is a standard treatment of an extraordinary tale of miscarriage of justice and unshakeable sibling love.

Swank is all cool determination as, with the help of law school friend Minnie Driver, she pores through suspicious evidence mounted by local cop Melissa Leo and meticulously retraces the steps that led to the arrest.  

It’s another powerhouse performance from Swank who establishes a convincing bond with Sam Rockwell as her hot-headed brother who seems disturbingly capable of the brutal crime.