Hollywood

Blue Valentine and the Decline of Men

January 18, 2011

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Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling

His domestic contentment and lack of career ambition irk Cindy, who is earning most of the income as an obstetrical nurse. (As doctors’ salaries rose, nurses’ went up, too.) And even if Dean got more motivated, he’s still a high-school dropout and not particularly bright, so what are his options?

In contrast, the youngest doctor at Cindy’s job has asked her to move to Riverdale to be his head nurse when he sets up his solo practice. Her boss later suggests that if she doesn’t feel like bringing her husband with her, well, maybe the two of them could start playing doctor together.

Dean attempts to cure Cindy’s grumpiness by doing what all the advice columnists suggest: working on their relationship. He cajoles her into spending the July 4th weekend with him at one of those 1970sish Poconos love motels where every room is decorated in a different fantasy theme. Dean unwisely picks the space-age Future Room, with its claustrophobic aluminum foil wallpaper, to spring his plan for their future on her: Let’s have a baby!

Dean’s affection still might have swayed Cindy if, when stopping at the liquor store on the way, she hadn’t run into the alpha male athlete she had been dating in college, back before she had hurriedly married Dean. She tells the jock she has a husband. “Are you faithful to him?” he asks. Flustered and flattered, Cindy doesn’t mention her daughter’s age. When she gets back to her beta hubby waiting patiently for her in the minivan, she immediately starts an argument.

As Gosling notes, “I was playing a typically female role. She’s the one with ambition, isn’t satisfied, is looking around. He’s trying to make it work and focused on the home.”

At first, Blue Valentine seems merely an improvisation on how the little things wear down a marriage. It turns out to be a craftily designed study of the big things that influence how families form and fall apart.

 

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