Ingmar Bergman's superb 1974 release Scenes from a Marriage went beyond allowing the viewer to feel like a fly on the wall: It made the viewer feel like a fly pinned to the wall, privy to everything going on in the room but unable to flee from the scene when things got nasty. A similar sense of uneasy omniscience informs Blue Valentine, a raw look at the ugly disintegration of that hallowed union between a man and a woman.
Moving his story around in nonlinear fashion, writer-director Derek Cianfrance (sharing script duties with Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis) starts out by showing Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) toward the end of their unhappy time together. Thereafter, he flashes back to the days when they were eager young kids in loopy love — Dean was the more spontaneous and romantic of the pair, Cindy the more sensible and intelligent. Jumping back and forth, Cianfrance nails with absolute clarity the opening and closing acts of this doomed romance, but he doesn't always satisfactorily connect the narrative from A to Z, leaving important questions unanswered. Nevertheless, this punishing drama is worth a look thanks to the excellent work by the leads as well as Cianfrance's ability to employ the appropriate mood to help capture his own prickly scenes from a marriage.