(On TV, March 2015) I’m actually paying a compliment to Blue Valentine when I say that I don’t ever want to see that movie again. As a romantic drama describing the beginning and the end of a relationship in excruciating detail, it more than fulfills its objectives. That it’s successful and heart-wrenching, however, doesn’t mean that it’s in any way pleasant or entertaining to watch. As a big montage jumping back in forth between the best and the worst moments of a relationship, Blue Valentine doesn’t miss an occasion to push and pull at the viewer, juxtaposing songs and dialogue lines to ironic effect and wallowing in massive emotional whiplash. Writer/director Derek Cianfrance clearly know what he’s doing, and the result is a raw and troubling film without heroes or winners. Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling are both exceptional in roles far removed from many of their other glossy performances (Gosling, especially, gets far from his idealised character in The Notebook, or his glossy-cool portrayal in Drive.) Alas, Blue Valentine revels in the kind of art-house aesthetics that reliably exasperate me: shaky-cam images (even when there are no reasons to shake the camera), too-close shots, gritty unpolished images, improvised dialogue… it’s a painful film to watch in more ways that the obvious subject matter. While Blue Valentine’s achievement is undeniable, so is a powerful drive to never have to go through it again.
(On Cable TV, January 2015) If I was in a better mood, I would probably have something nicer to say about The Place Beyond the Pines, its savvy use of Ryan Gosling, its unusual generation-hopping timeline, the quality of its images, the profound exploration of the meaning of fatherhood, the unexpectedly dramatic performances by Eva Mendes and Bradley Cooper, and a number of other meaningful factors. It’s a quality film, one that has a lot on its mind, and one that takes time to invest in its characters. But if writer/director Derek Cianfrance seems to be directly inspired by the artistic moviemaking of the seventies, he isn’t particularly interested in snappy storytelling or even base entertainment: The Place beyond the Pines tests everyone’s patience at 140 minutes, wallows in a somber tone and never again reaches the heights of its first act. I may not be in the mood for moody films these days, and that’s not the film’s problem. But it becomes my problem in trying to report on it, as the dominant impression I keep from it is having lost quite a bit of time watching something underwhelming. Not recommended for people with only the patience for light entertainment.