With “The Place Beyond the Pines” arriving in theaters with a bang last month, now may be a good time to remember “Blue Valentine,” Derek Cianfrance’s debut film of 2010 that critics called “astonishing” and audiences confirmed as such. It was and remains so on second viewing, this story of the unraveling of a marriage, for reasons all too familiar yet still unexplainable. What happens to people in a couple, how does a spouse go from being our indispensable alter ego to someone we hardly recognize and certainly no longer care for? Searing is an overused word but it’s the only one that comes to mind regarding this portrayal of a six-year marriage gone awry, with everything shown but nothing stressed.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams give tremendous performances, both as the younger couple with stars in their eyes and the older one. The woman, disillusioned and out of love has moved on toward adulthood and responsibility and the need for security while the man, a funny, laid-back dude when they first met has remained in a time warp where smoking, drinking and still looking for that spark replaces reality. Deft editing takes us smoothly back and forth so that we know without needing too many cues what point of the couple’s downward arc we are watching. For downward it is, wincingly familiar as mistakes accumulate and make it impossible to recapture the magic, such as it was.