The title of this mature and moving new US indie captures the tug of war between the excitement of new love and the misery of its slow, painful death. Young American filmmaker
bats us back and forth between all sorts of emotions and moods – hot and cold, hope and despair, energy and lethargy – as he shares with us the exciting beginning and dispiriting end of the five-year marriage between Dean (
) and Cindy (
), two East Coast youngsters whose relationship is born of trauma and who go from tender sex and tap-dancing in a shop doorway to shouting at each other across the kitchen sink and wrestling drunkenly in a kitsch motel room during a desperate bid to rekindle their passion.
We meet the couple in the throes of domesticity as Dean, with the air of a kid in adult’s clothing, helps their little daughter with her breakfast while a worn-out Cindy snaps at them from the other side of the room. On the same day, their dog goes missing, prompting tears, but something else is absent too, and it’s only when the film retreats after 15 minutes or so to a not-so-distant past, where Cindy is a thinner student with ambitions to be a doctor and Dean is a less ambitious removals guy with more hair, that we begin the game of moving back and forth in time, witnessing how Dean and Cindy meet and come together – and seeing how they fall apart.
It’s a simple tale of romance found and lost made all the more powerful by its tricksy, illuminating time structure (a reminder of François Ozon’s ‘5X2’ or Mike Leigh’s ‘Career Girls’) and the performances of two of America’s finest young actors. Williams, especially, is on sensitive form as Cindy: she gives an intelligent physical performance, whether acting warily towards Dean’s advances, experiencing genuine passion or feeling repulsed at her husband’s touch as she clenches her fists during an embrace.
The film has hipster leanings – Dean runs with a trendy trucker look and strums a ukulele, while the soundtrack features new songs by Grizzly Bear – but Cianfrance steers clear of the film’s more quirky potential and holds a steely focus on feelings and behaviour. He’s helped, too, by strong cinematography (especially during a scene in a futuristic, blue-lit motel room) that subtly stresses the conflicting atmospheres of the film’s two time zones.
There’s a lightness to the whole enterprise – loose direction, easy dialogue, gentle editing – that sits well with the heaviness of the material. The film’s episodic structure means that it’s heavy on events and emoting, but it’s not all extreme joy or misery, and there are lovely scenes between Cindy and her grandmother and between Dean and an old man who he helps move into a care home. It’s a bittersweet, affecting film that screams of smart minds both behind and in front of the camera.