Little Frankie (Faith Wladyka) is searching for her pet dog, but it has escaped from its cage in the garden and wandered off on its own. After casting about the fields around her home, she goes inside to wake her father, Dean (Ryan Gosling), and once he has shaken off his booze-induced sleep he sets about helping his daughter, though there is no sign of the animal. They both go into the bedroom to wake up his wife Cindy (Michelle Williams), but she's not in the mood for playing and resents being roused, though seeing as how she's up now, she may as well prepare breakfast.
Starting a movie like that makes it look like an unassuming domestic drama, but already in those behaviour patterns we can tell that there's something not quite right in the relationship here. What happens at the end of that sequence is that Cindy drives off with Faith for the day, and Dean suddenly loses his temper with a driver who he thinks is going too fast, and we begin to have mixed feelings about him as before he seemed like a doting father, yet with that outburst we have seen his aggressive, even possessive side. This is a part of his personality that will cause trouble with Cindy, and indeed the impression you get is it has been the case for a while.
What director and co-writer Derek Cianfrance did with his story was to edit it in such a way that we saw the beginning of the bond Dean and Cindy forge, then follow it to its inevitable in hindsight break up, contrasting those early months of their romance with the way that they have ended up, with Dean refusing to face up to any responsibilities and Cindy suffering because she feels as though she is doing all the heavy lifting to keep things going. It's not that Dean doesn't care, he does very much, it's just that they probably were never right for each other in the first place which leaves him as deluded if he thought he could hang onto this woman who was more ambitious and frankly out of his league.
Cianfrance spent many years getting this project off the ground, a series of documentaries keeping his funds coming in, and it does feel like a story that has seen a lot of experience go into it, so you could half believe that he saw a lot of himself in the aimless dreamer Dean. Yet if he does, he being very hard on himself because Cindy is painted in almost saintly tones for putting up not only with her husband, but with all the men she encounters. Every single male character here is a less than noble example of their gender, and their less admirable qualities are forever threatening to swamp their good points, most obviously with Dean, who we can tell is not a terrible guy but he's no catch either.
In fact the sole reason Cindy agreed to marry him is that he got her pregnant and she couldn't face going through with the abortion, so she got hitched instead. Some have found her a possessor of unrealistically high standards, but the film appears to be on her side as while we may see that Dean could be sweet and kind, that aggression he harbours saps the foundations of their happiness, and playing the ukelele is no substitute for not being so self-centred or blind to his wife's needs. Blue Valentine is a bleak film in that it suggests that while Cindy deserved better, there really was no Mr Right for her seeing as how she was surrounded by a Mr Wrong for every occasion, and the conclusion it reaches is that it's a miracle any marriage lasts nowadays, plus they lasted in the past because unhappy wives were unwilling to divorce and opted to muddle through, as we see with Cindy's parents. It's safe to say this is not the ideal date movie. Music by Grizzly Bear.