Magnificent performances elevate mundane Cassavetes-esque material in Blue Valentine, a simultaneous portrait of a marriage’s undoing and inception. Charting the day-of-disintegration for jack-of-no-trades Dean (Ryan Gosling) and nurse Cindy (Michelle Williams), as well as flashing back to their initial courtship, Derek Cianfrance’s film boasts a pair of lead turns to swoon over, with Gosling and Williams exhibiting such a guileless rapport across a wide spectrum of circumstances – tentative love, overjoyed passion, and then fear, resentment and disgust – that one wishes said situations weren’t so rote. Williams in particular is a marvel – during a centerpiece sequence in which Dean and Cindy leave their young daughter with her grandfather so they can spend the night at a cheesy sex motel (and, specifically, a room decorated to look like the “future”), Williams, shot in painful eyes-closed close-ups during combative sex, conveys a piercing sense of despair, need and confusion. Alas, while their emotions are intimately raw, the characters themselves are rather standard-issue, and in the case of Gosling – spied at one point riding a NYC bus wearing a hooded sweatshirt and carrying a ukulele– come across as borderline indie clichés. Unlike Tuesday, After Christmas, a similar and superior study of marital disintegration, Cianfrance’s scenarios afford his performers considerable breathing room but little dramatic substance. Dean and Cindy’s gripes about each other are two-dimensional and overtly articulated (she tells him he’s a child who won’t grow up; he freaks out over Cindy’s unexpected run-in with the high school boyfriend who fathered her child), and the film’s actual incidents play less like complex snapshots of a couple coming together and apart than cursory pieces of a feature-length montage. Throughout, Williams and Gosling find opportunities to transcend their formulaic confines, exuding a potent sense of in-the-moment rage, terror, and despondence. Nonetheless, Blue Valentine too often remains a surface-oriented affair.