BLUE VALENTINE * *
Cert 15, 112 min
From today’s date of publication there are just 31 days to go before this year’s Valentine’s Day celebrations. Or more importantly for our general well-being, relative daylight at 7am for the first time in what has already been a very long winter.
It’s just as well that Blue Valentine is unlikely to survive at the box office for three more Fridays after this one.
Trying to see this on the night of a romantic February 14 dinner would ruin the whole evening for any innocent romantics seduced by the V-word.
Around halfway through, I was itching to see how much time remained.
While it felt like 100 of the 112 minutes ought to have elapsed, my inner cinematic body clock was telling me there must be at least an hour left.
In such circumstances, dare you check your watch to risk prolonging the agony – or, like me, do you always resist in the invariably vain hope that things will actually improve?
If you’re already depressed watching the ins and outs of a flawed relationship by mid point, worse is to follow because Blue Valentine is one of those films where you eventually realise you’ve been conned.
‘‘A love story’’ is one of its taglines, not ‘‘A love story that will leave you feeling worse than before you went in.’’
Another one says: ‘‘Nobody baby but you and me’’, which is also not true once you see the film unfolding.
Then there are the posters which somewhat misleadingly proclaim in the name of entertainment: ‘‘If there’s any justice, Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams will both earn Oscar nominations for their raw, arresting performances’’.
In fairness, they may deserve a free Academy Awards’ ticket, depending on the quality of the potential opposition still to be released.
But more’s the pity that such recognition would not be for a film that has a more upbeat purpose than this one.
One that you’d enjoy watching over and over – like Pretty Woman appeals to the fairer sex, for example.
Generously awarded a 15 certificate given its sexually explicit nature, Blue Valentine is at its best as an account of the ins and outs of what binds a man and a woman together – and which can just as easily drive them apart.
At its worst, the film plods thanks to the scatterbrained nature of the way it has been deconstructed on to the screen. Directed by little-known Derek Cianfrance, who co-wrote the script with Joey Curtis and Cami Delavigne, the chronology of the story offers no help towards sustaining any sympathy for what is clearly an already unbalanced relationship.
Dean (Gosling) works for a removals firm, Cindy is a nurse-to-be who lives with her parents and also looks after her elderly grandmother.
The rest of the film cuts back and forth through the after-effects of rushing into a whirlwind romance that, it turns out, was already carrying some excess baggage.
Staying in a themed motel room with all the promise of a relationship-reviving romantic night for two has consequences for our main protagonists, but little emotional impact on the audience.
All told, Blue Valentine is well acted and boldly presented.
But it lacks the storytelling glue which enabled Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road to ask its viewers if they were brave enough to overcome their default position in life in order to try to become the person they had it within themselves to be.
Nor, despite one brief musical scene recalling its power, does Blue Valentine have the magical intensity of the unsung little Dublin love story Once, which went on to win the Oscar for best song in 2008.
Forget the breathless sex. Blue Valentine surprises most in the honest way it deals with need for the aged to be looked after.
This is an exceedingly rare commodity in Hollywood which hasn’t broached the subject recently much beyond Philip Seymour Hoffman’s The Savages  and, to a lesser degree, Clint Eastwood’s Gran Torino . GY
CONVICTION * * *
Cert 15, 107 mins
Based on the true story of a sister’s remarkable persistence, this film begins with a murder in 1980.
The police in Ayer, Massachusetts, arrest the quick-tempered local rogue they haul in for most crimes – Kenny Waters (Sam Rockwell). They are forced to release him through lack of evidence. But two years later, two vital witnesses suddenly declare he confessed to the murder, and he’s imprisoned for life.
His younger sister Betty Anne (Hilary Swank) is so convinced of his innocence that she sets about going back to school to take exams and a degree before entering law school – while also holding down a job in a bar and looking after her two sons.
On qualifying as an attorney, she realises the discovery of DNA and advances in technology could be the breakthrough she needs to free Kenny.
It’s an interesting, if fairly predictable and rather drawn-out story, with a cast that includes Minnie Driver as her steadfast friend from law school and Juliette Lewis as one of the witnesses who put Kenny away.
There are good performances, especially from Swank who’s been nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award, although she hardly ages during the film’s 20-year span. I just can’t recommend it as a wholly satisfying and compelling cinematic viewing experience, especially when I later learned something they don’t tell you at the end of the film – that the real Kenny Waters died from a fall six months after his release. RL
IT’S KIND OF A FUNNY STORY * *
Cert 12A, 101 mins
Julia Roberts’ niece Emma Roberts is a future star in the making.
There are flashes of why she’ll do OK in the long run here, but this is Keir Gilchrist’s film as 16-year-old Craig Gilner who prefers booking himself into Argenon Hospital instead of living up to his parents’ expectations.
He inadvertently ends up in the adult wing where the patients include Bobby, played by The Hangover star Zach Galifianakis.
Still on at Cineworld Broad Street for today, Thursday only, this could have been a rip-roaring comedy. Or an angst-ridden journey into the depressing world of 21st century teenagers. In the end, like the instantly-forgettable title, it’s kind of neither one thing nor the other and certainly no match for the likes of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or even Girl, Interrupted.
Although the overall theme is that you can get help and that life is worth living when you can see your own goals, the 12A certificate masks a deeper adult tone to the movie.
Writer-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck (Half Nelson) seem to tread on each other’s toes too often during the film and Galifianakis seems to have been anaesthetised.
With even its own distributor having failed to get behind the movie before its launch last Friday, it’s no surprise that Funny Story has failed to find an audience this week. GY