BLUE VALENTINE Just like your parents' divorce—except with cuter stars.

LATE LAST YEAR, Blue Valentine received some unexpected press from the MPAA in the form of a quickly repealed NC-17—that dreaded rating usually reserved for films straddling the porn/art boundary, like The Dreamers or Shortbus. One on hand, it would've been too bad for this quiet, un-sexy relationship drama to get ghettoized to art house theaters, since major chains refuse to carry NC-17s, but in a way, I get it: Rarely does a film come along that's as truly adult as Blue Valentine.

The film is driven by stunning, lived-in performances from Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams as a young married couple. In converging timelines, Valentine tracks both their initial courtship and the 48-hour period where it falls apart. The effect is no less emotionally brutal than a film like Gaspar Noé's Irreversible, as each happy memory of the past sweetens the pair's love story—while simultaneously making their falling out all the more devastating. Over a swelling score by Grizzly Bear, director Derek Cianfrance sets about autopsying Gosling and Williams' history, examining each cutting word and each loving gesture as if they were organs from the same body.

Blue Valentine's power comes not from its unflinching willingness to show the ugly parts of a marriage but from the level, humanistic way it does so. There are no villains in this movie, and no pat conclusions; this is merely the story of two people falling out of love with a punishing torpidity that contrasts the reckless free-for-all way they fell into it. The film and its central relationship both have a simple sadness that generates a corrosive power, and by Blue Valentine's conclusion, each poignant moment between these two lost, young people has accumulated to create something absolutely wrecking.