Sundance 2010 – batch 5

Employing frequent cuts between scenes from a relationship’s hopeful past and scenes from its hopeless present, Blue Valentine details the gradual squandering of potential, where the two principals find themselves tied together in spite of not being quite right for each other. Michelle Williams brings both radiance and restless disappointment to her character, and undeniable chemistry with Ryan Gosling, who’s character both dazzles and infuriates.

In the Q/A following the screening, writer/director Derek Cianfrance said the script had been in the works since about 1998, and described an extraordinary effort by the two leads to prepare for their roles. He also considered the music very carefully, choosing Grizzly Bear for the soundtrack, and having Ryan Gosling sing in a key scene, but deliberately avoiding any heavy-handed use of music to manipulate emotions.

The story of a disintegrating marriage sounds like a bummer, but with first-rate performances, some thoughtful music, and some inspired direction that allows scenes to linger, this film is beautifully heartbreaking, and baby sometimes love just ain’t enough. B+

The title of The Romantics refers to the name a group of 7 college friends gave themselves, and also to the sort of poetry they studied. A few years after graduating, they reunite for the wedding of friends #1 and #2. But friend #3, who is best friends with #1, used to date #2, a lot. So, that triangle is the heart of this uneven but generally entertaining ensemble comedy.

As an indication of how far we have come, the characters in this film would have been born around the time “The Big Chill”, the mother of all college-friends-reuniting films, was released. Since comparisons are likely, this one has to come up way short, if only because the music isn’t used nearly as effectively, the drug-addled antics aren’t as fun, and the dialog doesn’t ring as true. B-

In the mid 1990’s, I may have fantasized that the beautiful Amber Waves from “Boogie Nights” and the librarian-hot Sydney Ellen Wade from “The American President” somehow crossed paths and started making out. Well, I have now seen Julianne Moore and Annette Bening deliver the goods. They are the two lesbian moms heading a very modern family in The Kids Are All Right, a family so modern one of the kids is named “Laser”. Laser and his half-sister each came from one of the moms and are linked by a certain anonymous donation. When one kid turns 18 and they track down the donor/biodad (played with enthusiastic charm/sleeze by an underrated Mark Ruffalo), we learn what an awesome guy he is, until he starts acting on his own fantasies. His multi-faceted impact on the family generates a lot of laughs, and a lot of drama, in a very entertaining package. A

The movie Twelve takes its title from a made-up drug that is sort of a combination of ecstasy and crack, as if either by itself was not enough. The story in this movie struck me as also being likewise synthetic, with the drug linking the affluent uptown culture with the thug culture in an unlikely and incompatible mix. It doesn’t help that conventional exposition is suppressed in favor of heavy-handed narration. So it’s difficult to enjoy this grim tale of rich NYC kids with preoccupied, ineffective parents and misguided ambition, as they begin the process of wasting their lives. C-

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