Blue Valentine / Hall Pass
These reviews first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 6th March 2011
While both can be affecting, there is a big difference in quality between a clichéd interpretation of true love and one that is authentic. In his film career, Ryan Gosling has given us both. The undisputedly successful but arguably trite The Notebook is an example of the former and, with considerable kudos to the Academy Award nominee, Blue Valentine is a supreme illustration of the latter.
Playing a young married father opposite the equally talented (and Oscar-nominated) Michelle Williams, Gosling inhabits his character, all rambling, intense and chain-smoking, to the extent you find yourself completely riveted by this story of a couple whose six-year marriage has reached a turning point. Williams plays harried mother and reluctant wife with honesty and a complete lack of vanity, never striving to come out “the good guy”, and thus giving us a painfully believable rendition of how real relationships can blossom – and then wilt.
This is clearly a passion project for director Derek Cianfrance who spent 11 years getting the film made, and his commitment to the story he wanted to tell since his parents’ divorce during childhood is evident in the film’s quality. With a narrative that trips back and forth between the halcyon days of early blooming romance and the couple’s contemporary world of loss and disillusionment, the photography perfectly mirrors the tone – shooting the good old days in free, hand-held, super 16mm film, and the present on fixed-shot digital, full of suffocating close-ups. While the feeling of dread is often palpable, this is not an out-and-out depressing film (compared perhaps with the similarly well-acted Revolutionary Road). There are plenty of uplifting moments between father and daughter and Dean and Cindy’s courtship is as charming as any one could wish for, with his shop-front performance of “You Always Hurt the One you Love” one of the highlights.
The actors deserve their award nominations, and the respect garnered by films such as Half Nelson and Brokeback Mountain. Oozing charisma in the very best, non-manipulative way, they have an on-screen chemistry that leaves you wondering if, regardless of the outcome of their fictional relationship, Gosling and Williams should be a couple in real life.
And so, from the sublime to the frankly ridiculous. If you prefer your roms with more com, laced with the obligatory scatological humour of all Farrelly Brothers movies, a smattering of B-grade stars and a pointless police chase, then Hall Pass may be more the date-night movie you’re looking for.
The wives in this film clearly haven’t seen Blue Valentine – because they think their marriages are in crisis, they issue their dopey, girl-ogling husbands (Owen Wilson and Saturday Night Live alumnus Jason Sudeikis) with a “week off marriage”. The men’s initial reluctance rapidly turns into the enthusiasm which drives every “grass is always greener” fantasy and they embark on a 7-day excursion to make the most of their freedom.
In support, Extras’ Stephen Merchant (really just playing Extras’ Darren) provides some of the big laughs and there is a surprising turn from Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins as a rather odious, advice-giving bachelor.
For a fleeting moment it even seems as though the most of the female characters are being treated with respect, until an unfortunate incident in a hotel bathroom. Despite coming from the same school as The Hangover, this is the dunce of the class.