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Blue-Valentine-Poster-blue-valentine-28377913-1400-931“Blue Valentine,” a new character study starring Ryan Gostling and Michelle Williams, starts off with the loss of a beloved family pet and ends on an even more downbeat note.

The non-linear story begins in present day. Dean (Gostling), Cindy (Williams) and their daughter Frankie (Faith Wladyka) are a family unit teetering on the edge. Notes of tension are infused in their conversation and the only thing that seems to bond the couple is their love for Frankie. For the next 100 minutes we learn about them by jumping around on their relationship’s timeline; how they met — while visiting people at an old folks’ home — and how a once happy pairing fell prey to distrust and difficulty.

As you might expect from actors of the calibre of Gostling and Williams, the performances are top notch. Gosling seems to embody Dean, a high school drop-out with a great facility for love but also for volatile behavior and Williams has one of those empathic faces that can vacillate between joy and sorrow with just a very slight change in expression. But for all the skill of its performers “Blue Valentine” feels one-note.

The break up of Dean and Cindy’s marriage is not only painful for their make-believe movie family but for the viewer as well. Emotionally raw is good. So is heart-wrenching. But the repetition with which both these aspects of the story are displayed wears down any feeling the viewer may have for either character. It’s like watching a couple bicker on the subway. You feel sorry for them but hope they’ll get off at the next stop.

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