Holiday Movie Reviews: ‘Blue Valentine,’ ‘Rabbit Hole,’ ‘Somewhere’

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Blue Valentine Who better to play beautifully damned characters than Ryan Gosling, master of the tearjerker, and Michelle Williams, tragic “Page Six” heroine? Blue Valentine tells the all-too-real story of Dean and Cindy, whose marriage buckles under the grind of everyday life. The film depicts the final 24 hours of their relationship, interspersed with flashbacks of happier times. Through extreme close-ups, we’re brought into the couple’s private moments and spaces (including an abortion clinic and a grimy, Neutral Milk-style hotel), and forced to endure their agony along with them. The movie ends with the realization that neither Dean nor Cindy is to blame for the demise of their love. Sure, Dean has a drinking problem, a bad temper, and he smothers his wife, but he is also selfless and noble, and he deserves much more gratitude than Cindy gives him. Their adorable preschool-age daughter, Frankie, makes the story that much more heartbreaking, and the Grizzly Bear soundtrack brings the film’s Kleenex count close to The Notebook territory. —Dana Drori

Rabbit Hole The 2006 theatrical production of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, Rabbit Hole, earned acclaim for bypassing the histrionic pitfalls of lesser dramas. Still, it extracted a river of tears from audiences. That this rare achievement is duplicated in John Cameron Mitchell’s heartrending screen adaptation is a testament to the narrative’s unusual ability to tap into the vast range of emotions that often accompany traumatizing experiences. Howie Corbett and his wife, Becca (Aaron Eckhart and Nicole Kidman), are an affluent couple with an idyllic suburban life until the sudden death of their young son shatters their world. Audiences are introduced to the shell-shocked couple eight months after the accident, as they struggle with grief and the healing process (which, in Becca’s case, doesn’t include the wisdom of “god freaks”). The sincere, witty, and disarmingly honest screenplay jolts viewers from the brink of despair into fits of laughter, all the while earning their sympathy. —Nadeska Alexis

Love and Other Drugs Although the title suggests something far more insidious, Edward Zwick’s romantic comedy, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway (whose on-screen relationship fares much better than it did in Brokeback Mountain), is about Viagra. Pfizer employee Jamie Randall (Gyllenhaal), the pharmaceutical equivalent of a slick used-car salesman, spends his days hawking Zoloft at local clinics, which is where he meets Maggie Murdock (yep, Hathaway), a reclusive, shut-off beauty with Parkinson’s. They enter into a no-strings-attached relationship, which, predictably, becomes more fibrous than a bowl of oatmeal. When Pfizer patents a magical pill that increases sexual drive and stamina, blood rushes back into Jamie’s, er, career, and he’s forced to reconcile his professional success with his sick girlfriend. A frank portrayal of love and disease, the film is also heavy on nudity. Said Hathaway at a private screening in New York, “Put me in a room with Jake and my bra hits the eject button.” The same won’t be said about Love and Other Drugs when it’s released on DVD. —Nick Haramis

Biutiful Was Alejandro González Iñárritu’s decision to forgo the narrative crosscutting that defined his first three films (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel) a case of ceding to critics, or a byproduct of parting ways with writer and collaborator Guillermo Arriaga? Probably a bit of both. Despite the shift, the acclaimed Mexican director’s Biutiful somehow feels tired. This time, Iñárritu’s bleak worldview is seen through the eyes of Uxbal (brilliantly played by Javier Bardem), a brooding father, husband, and hustler-with-a-heart, who must tie up loose ends—both familial and professional—after he’s diagnosed with cancer. Although the film is at times heavy-handed, Bardem’s noble navigation of a Barcelona in moral (and architectural) decay saves Biutiful from crumbling under its own weight. Woody Allen’s Barcelona this is not. —Dan Barna

Somewhere Twenty-five years into his acting career, Stephen Dorff delivers a breakthrough performance in Somewhere, Sofia Coppola’s third consecutive ode to ennui. As the actor Johnny Marco, a sort of Vincent Chase without the entourage, Dorff is alienated and adrift, in life and in the hallways of the Chateau Marmont. When he falls asleep in front of two pole-dancing bimbos, it conveys more about his mood than dialogue ever could. He’s also incredibly likeable, especially when Cleo, his precocious 11-year-old daughter (Elle Fanning, also a revelation), unexpectedly shows up and reinvigorates his spirit. Coppola lets her shots linger—life in the fast lane rarely looks so slow—and actions speak louder than words. Never has a plate of eggs Benedict conveyed such gravitas. —Ben Barna