Marketed as a gritty, emotionally draining drama about a disintegrating marriage, Blue Valentine is really a gritty, emotionally chilly drama about a nice guy (Ryan Gosling) whose frigid wife (Michelle Williams) hates him.
Cutting back and forth between the ugly final days of this couple's relationship and the first few weeks of their budding romance six years earlier, the film is well-edited, and Gosling and Williams certainly give it their all. But the danger of making such a character-centric movie is that the world these characters live in can seem hermetically sealed, with little relevance to the audience, and that's what happens with Blue Valentine. Or maybe I simply couldn't identify with anybody in this picture because I'm in a happy marriage. Those who have experienced great drama and pain in their relationships might really connect with Blue Valentine, for all I know.
In any event, I get the feeling that Cianfrance, his writers, and his cast believe they have told the story of two decent people who can't overcome their differences, but the truth about the film is that Williams is made out to be, through small actions and back story details, a heartless bitch. A lot of those details only become clear after the film is over, but among other things, she's more interested in her work than her family, she flirts with an old boyfriend who we learn is a terrible human being, she thinks her sweet if unambitious husband is a total loser, she has a joyless relationship with her adorable daughter, and she even lets the family dog run away and get killed! It goes on and on, but in short, this character is awful, and while the script offers hints at why she became the unfeeling mess that she is, I still found it impossible to sympathize with her.
Gosling's character, meanwhile, comes across as a well-meaning romantic whose only crimes are smoking around his kid and drinking too much (and even here, Williams complains about this far more than we actually see it). However, Gosling severely overindulges when it comes to aging himself between the two periods. Giving his "older" self a paunch, thinning hair, glasses, and different facial hair, he seems to be pretending that twenty years have passed, not six. Cianfrance should have reined in his star's Raging Bull-level transformation, because it's distracting.
There are movies that you like more and more when you think about them afterward. Then there are movies that you like less and less. For me, Blue Valentine falls squarely in the latter category. Somewhere out there is a good story about how you deal with falling out of love with your spouse, but this isn't it.