When it premiered at Sundance at the start of this year, Blue Valentine was noted for, among other things, the casual nudity of its young and attractive leads (Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams). But now that I've actually seen Derek Cianfrance's debut melodrama, I'm not sure what all the fuss was about, and the MPAA seems to have come around: following a plea from Harvey Weinstein, the film's rating was downgraded from NC-17 to R, bringing it in line with Love & Other Drugs, its mainstream competition.
Blue Valentine concerns a couple who got married too young and who will, over the course of the film, split up. The reasons for this split are doled out in an elaborately conceived, overdetermined backstory, shot handheld and grainy in contrast to the careful and often handsome compositions of the present-day sequences, and largely set in nondescript Williamsburg locations.
The real backstory to Blue Valentine, however, is its hype, which emphasizes the number of years (12) and sacrifices it took Cianfrance and his stars to make this passion project. (Purportedly, Cianfrance moved the shoot from California to Pennsylvania so that Williams could return home to her daughter every night.) Gosling and Williams, together and by themselves, have moments of emotional authenticity throughout, but too often they make showy choices. But even without knowing how hard they worked at these roles, their sweat is visible on the screen, in all the ways in which they are trying so hard not to seem vain or pampered or famous. To seem just like us. Gosling—a la Christian Bale in The Fighter—even pretends to be balding. And then the closing credits come down over a series of glamour shots of the two leads groping each other, and you're reminded just how phony that conceit is.