What’s intriguing about this, to me, is that reviewers of the film seem so eager to praise the film that they rush to fill in the blanks. The problem, they all seem to agree, is Ryan Gosling’s character, a “man-child” whose lack of ambition and contentedness in various dead-end jobs has caused his wife to fall out of love with him*. My reaction to the film was totally different. What I find intriguing about this disjunct is that I think that in real life, that probably is what a compelling explanation for why a relationship might end. But I think that in this movie, that's not what causes it. In fact, I think the movie tells you what the problem is early on, when it has Gosling's character remark that men are more romantic than women, they marry for love, whereas women marry when they find a suitable guy who will be a good provider. To me, the problem in this movie seemed to be Michelle Williams' character, who was an emotionally troubled, unhappy sort of woman who was incapable of communicating with others. Here we add that her family life was obviously nightmarish, and the only other relationship of hers that we see wasn't all that great either. She leaves her previous boyfriend with no explanation, no willingness to talk things over, just dumps him flat when he does something that upsets her. Granted, he seems to be a jerk anyhow, for the most part, but still, she isn't exactly being reasonable either. Meanwhile, Ryan Gosling's character is verging on saintliness. Yes, he lacks ambition, and is content to work crappy jobs and basically be a husband and dad (which he in fact explicitly says). And he's willing to do that because he is head-over-heels for his wife, and their family life is his number one priority. Yes, he drinks in the morning, but the movie is careful not to portray him as a drunken mess, or a jerk. This, I think, is a mis-step - like I said, in real life, I think he would have been a lot more difficult to live with, and that would be a problem. But I think the movie emphatically refuses to make him that. There is one scene where he shows up drunk and unreasonable and is generally a nightmare, but your sympathy clearly lies with him even at that moment, because his wife is completely impossible to talk to, and this is his desperate last ditch effort to save their relationship. She gives him no chance at all, drives him to that awful scene, and then uses it as justification to leave him. Or at least, that's how it seemed to me.
So I guess this is less a review of the movie overall than a response to what I think is a total misinterpretation of the film. I kind of hated Michelle Williams' character. And it bugs me that even in reviews, she gets to be the good guy. She is not the good guy. She's a seriously messed up woman who, I think, is basically incapable of having an adult relationship. SO THERE.
*I’m quoting an imagined aggregate of reviews here, so I may be misrepresenting them, or the ones I read may not be representative of all the reviews out there.