Anatomy of a Scene: Blue Valentine
Expectations vs. Reality
I was under the impression that Blue Valentine was a musical after confusing it with La La Land. For the first 20 minutes I was waiting for Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling) to break into song and dance. But Dean and Cindy are in no mood to dance. Their marriage is melting, Cindy is passive and Dean does not understand why. How did this couple even get together?
The interludes from six years prior paints a different picture – Cindy goes through an unplanned pregnancy with an abusive boyfriend and Dean is smitten by Cindy in their first meeting. Cindy ignores Dean initially, but a chance meeting on a bus brings them on their course to destiny.
Blue Valentine works on contrasts. It is the earlier iteration of the Marriage Story , where the juxtaposition of the past over the present gives us the colour book and the colours. Blue Valentine gives the viewer a voyeuristic insight into noticing the “red flags” in the romance that preclude the downfall. For a film that tries to explore the depth of a relationship as time passes by, the breakdown of the marriage works if there is a believable element of love that preceded the union.
The tap dance scene outside the bridal store serves this purpose. Dean and Cindy cannot see the end yet, they have to still fall in love but for the audience the dramatic hinge rests upon this act of falling in love. The scene is combustible, it has these two raw, imperfect strangers who need each other. Dean because he is smitten and Cindy because she's pregnant with someone she doesn't trust. It lets them be without the pressing problems that wait in their adult lives. The tap dance scene can also be termed childlike in the context of their relationship because what follows after is the stuff of Agony Aunt columns. The child in a relationship grows up, the problems that force Cindy to fall in love are far removed.
This effervescent two minute scene gives meaning to the tragedy that follows. We are propelled to fill in the blanks and involve our judgement to the failing marriage. The film offers no overt narrative support but it pulls us into it through the imperfections the characters create, giving us a chance to self-reflect about our own personal tragedies. I was a bit sullen that it wasn't a musical but it is whatever it takes to make you feel.