Love blooms and dies at the same time in the delicate dance between Oscar nominees Ryan Gosling (Half Nelson
) and Michelle Williams (Brokeback Mountain
). Gosling's Dean, a high-school dropout, works for a New York moving company. While relocating a frail widower into a retirement home, he spots Cindy, a nursing student who's visiting her grandmother, but the film actually begins six years later. Married with a daughter, they live in rural Pennsylvania. Heavy drinker Dean's looks are fading, while Cindy still turns heads. In his elegantly constructed second feature, writer-director Derek Cianfrance pirouettes between past and present, with each scene commenting on the next (set to the bittersweet tones of Brooklyn band Grizzly Bear). The Dean of the early years pursues Cindy, who resists at first, but a spontaneous date ends with her tap dancing (badly) and him singing (not so badly). She leaves her domineering boyfriend (Mike Vogel) for this attentive stranger, leading to scenes of intimacy that are far more suggestive than pornographic--even if the MPAA briefly rated the film NC-17. Later, when the family dog goes missing, the cracks in their marriage intensify, so Dean arranges for a night of romance, which plays out like a negative image of their first date. If the two actors, who are very good, are meant to carry equal weight, Gosling has the more difficult task. It's harder to like the clingy, insecure Dean, who loves more intensely and less wisely, but that makes Gosling's the braver performance. --Kathleen C. Fennessy
Blue Valentine is the story of love found and love lost told in past and present moments in time. Flooded with romantic memories of their courtship, Dean and Cindy use one night to try and save their failing marriage. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams star in this honest portrait of a relationship on the rocks.