The rating for “Blue Valentine” was changed from NC-17 to R following an appeal by its distributor, the Weinstein Co. Personally, I’d rate this portrait of a broken marriage UG for unsparingly grim.
The NC-17 rating, based primarily on an inexplicit oral sex scene between husband Dean (Ryan Gosling) and his wife Cindy (Michelle Williams), would have barred anyone 17 or under from seeing the film and kept it out of most theaters.
That misleadingly implied that “Blue Valentine” is prurient. The movie is titillating only if you find the emotional disintegration of a couple to be a sexual stimulant.
The performances by Gosling and Williams are so raw and their characters so vulnerable that you might feel like a Peeping Tom. The intimacy is intensified by all the extreme close-ups, the home-video look and the soundtrack by the Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear.
Derek Cianfrance, the director and co-writer (along with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne), switches back and forth between the couple’s courtship years earlier and their present-day problems. It’s a stark reminder of how true love can turn into utter loathing.
They meet at a nursing home where Cindy is visiting her grandma and Dean, who’s working for a moving company, is unpacking for a new resident across the hall. He gives her his business card and can’t get her out of his mind.
Dean purses Cindy, even though she already has a possessive boyfriend. She tells him she wants to study medicine and sings a tune about U.S. presidents; he plays the ukulele for her and gets beat up by her jealous beau.
Cindy gets pregnant and, though she’s not certain who the father is, they get married.
Fast forward to the present, when Cindy is working in a doctor’s office and Dean is a house painter who dotes on his young daughter. The marriage has deteriorated into a boring routine, devoid of excitement and passion.
They try to rekindle the spark with a getaway at a cheesy motel, but no magic is found in the rotating circular bed. Cindy tells Dean he’s wasting his life, and Dean tells Cindy he can’t understand why she’s so miserable.
The black cloud hovering over them is about to burst, and it’s too late to avoid the downpour.
“Blue Valentine,” from the Weinstein Co., is playing in New York and Los Angeles. Rating: ***
What the Stars Mean: **** Excellent *** Good ** Average * Poor (No stars) Worthless
(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)