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Sundance 2010: Finally, a drama that ... works?

January 25, 2010 |  7:30 am


It's been a long, long time in the desert -- longer than Jets fans have been wishing for a Super Bowl, to use one completely arbitrary example -- since a Sundance drama merited film-reporter recognition. We've been through "Welcome to the Rileys," "Sympathy for Delicious," "Hesher" and a host of highly touted, dubiously excuted star-driven dramas. And that's just in the last three days.

It's been a strange Sundance Film Festival, one in which the most celebrated movies have been those with comedic or genre elements (see: Lionsgate's opening of the wallet for "Buried"), not the hard-boiled premises for which Sundance historically has been known. But "Blue Valentine," a story of a couple in and out of love -- simultaneously, for most of its flashback-happy, high-concept existence -- offers a cool glass of water at a table full of the dusty and lukewarm. The Ryan Gosling-Michelle Williams tale of a marriage unraveling, which screened for the first time to buyers and audiences Sunday afternoon, isn't particularly new to Sundance-goers or especially groundbreaking in the history of dramatic enterprise. But its nuances are entirely specific -- and its performances sufficiently convincing -- that it rates mention as one of the more interesting films in Park City this year.

The coup here doesn't come in the way of dialogue or story -- though both are strong. (Filmmaker Derek Cianfrance will enjoy a fruitful career after leaving the land of Joe Smith and John Stockton -- he cited both "The Godfather II" and D.W. Griffith in discussing his influences at a post-screening Q&A.) No, the real coup is Ryan Gosling, one of the best actors of his generation and consistently part of the most interesting story lines to emerge from Park City.

It was just four years ago when Gosling dazzled as a crack-addled teacher in "Half Nelson," on his way to the most unlikely of Oscar runs later that year. Gosling has had his genre and rom-drama turns, but, hey, we're all allowed our mistakes. If the fates have any sense of justice, a small distributor will buy this film and champion it the way the dearly departed ThinkFilm did with "Half Nelson." "Blue Valentine" is that kind of movie, and Gosling that kind of actor. Sometimes the dramatic is that simple.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams in "Blue Valentine." Credit: Hunting Lane Films