this movie, I was ready to turn it off, but I'm glad I didn't. The opening seemed to prepare me for two hours in the woebegone company of unhappy, stupid, and relentlessly ordinary characters and, worse still, filmmakers who couldn't decide where to put the camera and didn't want to, because they learned from watching TV that self-consciously fake, handheld, wavering cinematography was how to lend "realism" to performances that are already doing the job perfectly well, thank you.
But this film's saving grace is two-fold: it makes the intelligent decision to put the chronology of this story of a marriage in a blender, which gives the impatient mind something to do as these hopeless souls go about their mistakes, and it also manages to produce a moment or two of genuinely homely magic (a compliment, not an insult) which really does help to buoy the rest.
Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams are both at the top of their game here, Williams especially so as the working-class wife and mother who is doing her inadequate best, despite her deadening stare, to advance herself for the good of her family, something it hasn't occurred to her variously and naturally talented but thick-skulled husband to do. By cutting back and forth between the troubled present and charming origins of their relationship, writer-director Derek Cianfrance not only shows the wear-and-tear of decreasing hope on these people, and the aging family members around them, but offers the two leads a wider berth in which to demonstrate their capabilities and mutual chemistry.
At their characters' worst, and at their sweetest, Williams and Gosling make us feel we're eavesdropping on episodes and interludes almost too sweet, too raw, too personal to share with strangers. When the movie travels back to the couple's second accidental meeting, which becomes a kind of lingering date in which Gosling asks Williams to improvise a dance to his prophetic ukelele rendition of "You Always Hurt the One You Love," we can see at once in the endearing, complementary sloppiness of their kismet that this is going to be a trainwreck but it has to happen. And the lack of pretension in these performances keep them real, evoking the smells of cigarettes and morning breath, the feel of cold buttocks, the tight squeezes of a shared shower, the agony of unwelcome foreplay.
Viewed via Cinemax View On Demand.