In this intimate and delicate drama we follow Cindy (Michelle Williams) and Dean (Ryan Gosling), a relatively young married couple living in rural Pennsylvania with their cute daughter named Frankie, during two very important times of their relationship. One is when they first met and fell rapidly, dazzlingly in love five or six years prior. He worked for a moving company and she was in college, intending on becoming a doctor. Their chemistry was instantaneous and soon they were inseparable, joyfully facing the world together.
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The second important time happens in the present tense, as Cindy and Dean take a weekend trip alone together to clear their heads after the sudden death of the family dog. Dean now paints houses. Cindy never became a doctor, but is instead an overworked nurse. The tension between them, years into their marriage, is deeply ingrained. As far as we can tell, nothing major has happened. No infidelity, no abuse. But it's as if Cindy and Dean are on different wavelengths. His playfulness annoys her. He, in turn, thinks she's a killjoy. He gets angry with her over issues she thought were minor and her reaction is genuine, hurt confusion. As they arrive at their hotel, get very drunk, and eventually fight viciously, larger issues in their relationship start to emerge. We may very well be witnessing the end of their marriage in all its heart-wrenching, personal detail.
Best part of story, including ending:
The film weaves dreamily between happier times for Cindy and Dean and the awful, pivotal weekend. This balances the film to great effect---the young lovers never seem overly saccharine because we know of their troubled future. And their fights later on don't plunge us into stupefying depression because soon enough we see them young and sweet and silly again. If it was just one plot line or the other, I don't think the film would work nearly as well as it does. The ghostly, insistent soundtrack by alternative band Grizzly Bear gives the narrative an urgent quality, as if their relationship is being pulled, inevitably, into both existence and its destructive fate.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when we see the contrast of Cindy and Dean's emotional, lovely courthouse wedding and them hashing things out at Cindy's father's house, where they are picking up their daughter. Rather than being simply angry in the latter, they seem to fully realize the love they are potentially losing. It's brutal and completely captivating.
Opinion about the main character:
I liked that neither Cindy nor Dean is made out to be the “bad guy” in the situation. They both have realistic flaws that are apparent when they first meet and only intensify over the years. Cindy is probably the more complexly-written character. She grew up with parents who absolutely hated each other, so she has a certain cynicism connected to that. She can be harsh and has low self-esteem. But she also has a kind heart and a desire to be happy, which is brought out, in her best moments, by Dean and Frankie.