(out of 5)
Derek Cianfrance’s directorial debut combines with superb performances from two of the best of their generation for a film reminiscent of the kind of character exploration in John Cassavetes movies. Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams chart the disintegration of their marriage as scenes veer back and forth from their current state, married with a daughter and destructively abusive to each other, and their earliest days, when he meets her at the nursing home where her grandmother lives and immediately charms her off her feet. Their initial days of romance are incredibly effective for their sweetness, while the present day scenes of hatred and resentment, with her shutting him out of her present sense of dissatisfaction and he reacting with uncontrollable bouts of violent anger, are presented with frank immediacy. Gosling and Williams reportedly spent a number of weeks getting to know each other before filming their older scenes and the effect shows in the palpable intimacy they put on screen. Cianfrance supports them with a film that hits all the right notes for a perfect balance of styles: the indie feel of the handheld camera work is never overstated, the scenes of more emotional revelation are never indulgent or rambling, and even the inclusion of a rival boyfriend who is the captain of the wrestling team (and who might as well put on a skeleton costume and chase Gosling around the school parking lot) doesn’t throw it off its even keel (though in real life, just so you all know, a man who spends that many years drinking beer on the job ends up a lot softer in the middle than Ryan Gosling does). It tells a sad tale of one of life’s harsher realities, the inability for many couples to keep the balloon up in the air, with refreshing honesty and no judgment or pat-happy conclusions.
Directed by Derek Cianfrance
Cinematography by Andrij Parekh
Music by Grizzly Bear
Production Design by Inbal Weinberg
Costume Design by Erin Benach