I have a thing for themed movie selections. If I have an urge to watch one movie (and I have time for two), I’ll pick a second movie that’s somehow similar and host my own mini-marathon. That’s what I planned for Valentine’s Day 2013.
The movies I picked for my Valentine’s Day double feature were two emotionally jarring indictments of the mythical “fairy tale” romance that is the basis for the holiday. Blue Valentine and Take This Waltz are two films starring Michelle Williams as married but emotionally damaged women that will leave you questioning your idea of what it takes to make a relationship work.
“Is this you?”
Derek Cianfrance’s Blue Valentine from 2010 stars Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling as married couple Cindy and Dean. Cianfrance carves a nonlinear path as he guides the audience through the highs and lows of Cindy and Dean’s complex and, often times, heartbreaking relationship.
The film opens with their young daughter, Frankie, yelling for her missing dog. We’re given a brief glimpse into the dynamic of their relationship when we see how they react to each other when they are upset over the dog. Dean turns to a tearful Cindy in public and coldly asks, “How many times have I told you to lock the fucking gate?” Later we see Cindy sweetly comforting him while he has his own breakdown.
More like Cryin’ Gosling, am I right?
We’re given insight into their dysfunction with a peek at Cindy’s upbringing and a look at Dean’s insecurities about his idea of what women expect from their men. These windows provide harsh subtext for the brutal arguments the characters find themselves having throughout the movie.
The way the early days of the relationship are juxtaposed with the couple’s current problems creates a distorted view of the two characters that becomes more clear as the threads unravel. What should be a sweet scene where Dean gives Cindy a CD and suggests that “You and Me” by Penny & the Quarters be “their song” is robbed of its charm by an earlier scene where Dean plays the song in an extremely uncomfortable attempt to initiate intimacy.
The movie creates a very bleak world for these characters. Sometimes hard to watch, it’s a dark journey and the two leads carry the film with incredible performances. Blue Valentine will stay with you long after you watch it.
“New things get old.”
I’ll be honest, I was a little nervous about watching Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley’s essay on desire and consequence again. I watched it for the first time in December and couldn’t get it out of my mind. It had caught me completely off guard, with the last half hour delivering an unexpected gut punch that stuck with me until up until a week or two ago. Needless to say, I was too curious not to see how it held up to a second viewing.
Take This Waltz was released in 2011, the same year Michelle Williams was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance as Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. She gives very strong performances in both films but I feel like she should have been nominated for Waltz. She has an affinity for playing emotionally fragile, damaged women and in Take This Waltz, she is a master of her craft.
She plays a woman named Margot, a travel guide writer married to a cookbook writer with a chicken fetish played by Seth Rogen. The two are happily married but when Margot has a chance encounter with Daniel (played with great depth and pain by Luke Kirby), she finds herself drawn to him.
From there, the movie sees the two acquaintances exploring their taboo mutual attraction in a (mostly) innocent way. The two find ways to bump into each other. Daniel’s behavior in the movie could almost be construed as predatory but the onscreen chemistry between the two is so undeniably strong that you forget the boundaries he crosses. Kirby and Williams simply drinking coffee together comes with such strong tension, it’s hard not to squirm at the implications.
As the two test the boundaries of what is new and exciting, we see how well Margot has it with Seth Rogen’s character, Lou. They have a very quirky give and take that would be weird if it wasn’t so charming. We see how his family loves her, particularly his recovering alcoholic sister played by Sarah Silverman.
But Margot and Lou have been married for 5 years and, as an astute older woman in the gym shower states, “New things get old.” Margot and Lou are happy but they’re out of the honeymoon phase and settled into their marriage. Enter Daniel.
The film works incredibly well at establishing its tone and running with it. The scenes with Margot and Daniel are scored by music that plays up the feeling of an idyllic romance that, paired with the stellar writing and incredible acting, really makes it hard to turn away. And when the two skirt the line of infidelity, the tension is so strong, you want to turn away.
“You seem restless…in a permanent way.”
Margot is unsure of herself and scared of the way she feels about Daniel. But the attraction is so strong that she’s drawn to him, as he is to her. As the pair spend more time together, Margot’s relationship with Lou becomes strained.
The film culminates in a sequence (set to Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz”) that is beautifully filmed and slightly devastating all the same. If you’re like me, in the end you’ll have a lot to ponder. The movie could shake the foundations of how you view relationships and even change the way you listen to the song Video Killed the Radio Star.
It takes what should be a tired formula, riddled by clichéd rom-coms, and takes a fresh, brutally honest approach to it. It sets itself apart from standard Hollywood fare by giving the characters natural motivations and flaws. What the viewer is left with is an honest and terrifyingly real look at the nature of attraction and desire.