Long time, since we had a nice time
Do you, do you, do yah think about that?
– Phyllis Dillon “Nice Time”
(Bob Marley & the original Wailers also cut a much slow version named “Nice Time” that’s worth checking out)
Dean (Ryan Gosling) and Cindy (Michelle Williams) still think about their long-gone good times. Between the two, Dean is the only one fighting to keep their marriage alive. And Cindy has him on the ropes. She dodges all his amorous advances, and crushes all of his efforts to rekindle their former passion that time has snuffed out.
“I don’t want to be like my parents,” Cindy says earnestly during an early tête-à-tête with Dean. He understands her, since his parent’s marriage ended when his mother skipped off, arm-in-arm, with another man.
“No one else talks in my family,” she says matter-of-factly, “And when they talk, they only yell.”
Instead of kicking and screaming, Cindy often uses her words (and disappointed glances) to hurt Dean more than her tiny fists ever could. In the opening scene, when Dean cuts up with their daughter Frankie for fun, her blasé sighs and cutting stare signal how fed up she is with playing mom to two “children.” And a later “promotion” (i.e. proposition) to work at an office far away from Dean actually inspires a rare smile. The “promotion” is her big chance to get away from it all. But luck stopped favoring her a longtime ago.
When the bickering stage of their marriage begins, neither of them knows. And you won’t either since the film’s non-linear narrative never reveals when the rupture exactly begins.
Their marriage forces both to settle for least than they expected. Settling down works for Dean: Maintaining the “wife-a kid-and-a-house” routine becomes his reason for living. Climbing a corporate ladder or moving up at his job as a heavy-duty mover is an afterthought.
Cindy, on the other hand, tosses aside her dream to become a doctor and works as a nurse instead. Devotedly, she strives to be the best nurse. Her job is also her favorite excuse to escape the hell she calls home. The unspoken regret of giving up her dream makes her lash out at Dean (and herself indirectly) because she’s convinced he’s squandering his many talents.
His most stand-out talent: Making a heartbreak song “funny.” (Strumming a ukulele helps a lot.)
On their first date, Dean serenades Cindy with the fifties’ classic “You Always Hurt the One You Love.” While he sings playfully off-key, she channels MGM’s Eleanor Powell, tapping up a storm in front of a shuttered secondhand store. That impromptu show-and-tell of hidden talents is one of the happiest moments the couple shares on screen.
The second happiest is a tie between when the “two become one” and a bus ride exchange about everything including “that Walter guy” that’s full of witty exchanges:
(D: [A line about all pretty girls being crazy]… You’re probably cuckoo-crazy”
C: “I like how you compliment and insult at the same time with equal measure.”)
From the opening scene to the explosive fireworks before the credits starting rolling, tension builds. And when Cindy and Dean vent their repressed anger – while drunk or sober – their fights are comparable to the bitter sniping between the Swedish couple (Liv Ullman and Erland Jospehson) of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage. The first of two major blow-ups unexpectedly happens when Dean’s last ditch effort to revive their dying marriage implodes – in the spacey (and ironically named) “Future Room” of a sex hotel. Their last blow-up leaves one person bloodied up and somebody else spitting out the harshest “Man up!” line I’ve heard yet (“I’m more of a man than you, you cunt”).
And with the utterance of those words to cap off a public brawl, Cindy’s and Dean’s biggest nightmare comes true. They had blindly become their parents: Living together inside four walls where love no longer lived – and was never coming back.
Classic Film Rating: 7.7/10 – Potential Cult Classic
Side-note: Nobody in the nineties could’ve guessed that “Jen” from the WB teen series Dawson’s Creek would become the biggest star out of the cast with a full-fledged career. “Joey” (Katie Holmes) and “Pacey” (Joshua Jackson) showed promise before settling for B-stardom. And “Dawson” (James Van Der Beek) should be comforted that other lead/title characters from other popular nineties show are always spotlighted on Where Are They Now? segments (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper, Xena, Malcolm in the Middle, NY Undercover ….).
Williams’ next role as an icon who remains the ‘Talk of Hollywood’ (Norma Jean Mortenson, stage name: Marilyn Monroe) is definitely on my list of movies to look out for. And lastly, “justice” (as invoked by EW‘s Dave Karger) is half-blind, since Williams was also nominated for an Oscar. Gosling, however, received an undeserved snub. If an “actor” who portrayed the flattest “character” gets a nod, why can’t Gosling?