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‘Blue Valentine’ has more backstory than actual story

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Originally rated NC-17, “Blue Valentine” was reduced to an R rating after complaints. Photo via Hunting Lane Films.

In the entertainment business, controversy is always a good thing. It makes your product a talking point, always on the minds of potential moviegoers. Movies like “The Passion of the Christ” and “Fahrenheit 9/11” may have sparked protests, but they also demonstrated the dramatic push controversy could give a movie at the box office.

We can now add the Oscar-nominated “Blue Valentine” to that dubious list of controversial films. Slapped with a short-lived NC-17 rating when it was released late last year, the highly discussed marital drama has finally hit Milwaukee.

The film follows a young married couple as they attempt to fix their crumbling marriage. The husband, played by “The Notebook’s” Ryan Gosling, happily paints houses for a living, despite the fact that his wife believes he has the potential for more. Oscar-nominated Michelle Williams plays his wife, an ambitious nurse who has grown tired of Gosling’s childish mindsets and ideals.

While much of “Blue Valentine” takes place during their present-day disaster of a marriage, the story often flashes back to the couple’s origins. These sequences are of slightly more pleasant times, but since the audience knows where it all leads, it’s a rather tragic sight to watch an optimistic couple head towards certain marital doom.

But “Blue Valentine” is not just a depressing film — it’s a draining experience that can be hard to watch. If the message of Nicholas Sparks’ “The Notebook” is “love overcomes all,” “Blue Valentine” wants to punch Nicholas Sparks in the face for lying. For Gosling and Williams’ characters, love is the problem, not the solution.

A movie this tragic can only be truly believable and effective if it has solid performances behind it. Luckily, first-time director Derek Cianfrance gets two great ones from Gosling and Williams. There may not be two more natural actors working in Hollywood, and they don’t ring a false note throughout the entire film.

Unfortunately, while “Blue Valentine” is an intriguing character study, there’s no concrete storyline to keep the film going. Summed up, the movie is essentially unhappy people saying and doing unpleasant things to other unhappy people. After a while, it becomes a drag, emotionally and literally.

What’s much more developed is the movie’s backstory. The movie erupted in controversy earlier last year when it was rated NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America immediately prior to its limited release, due to sexually explicit scenes including one where Gosling’s character performs oral sex on his wife.

For those unaccustomed to the mysterious enigma that is the NC-17 rating, it literally means no children age 17 or younger are allowed in. It also means certain box office death, because many theaters will not show NC-17 films due to the stigma attached to them and the poor box office earnings that generally come with it.

However, after a public campaign on the part of producer Harvey Weinstein, the MPAA relented, lowering the film’s rating to R. However, the film remains one designed for mature audiences, as no cuts were made in the movie removing the questionable scenes.

“Blue Valentine” is a solid, yet flawed film. The movie may offer great performances from its leads, but those performances are forced through a plotless grind. By the end of the movie, the most painful part is not the on-screen tragedy, but the degree of boredom the film has evoked.

The main problem with the couple’s relationship in “Blue Valentine” is that it was extended for longer than it should have. It’s ironic that the movie has the same fatal flaw.

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