A film review by Craig J. Koban July 4, 2012
TAKE THIS WALTZ
2012, R, 116 mins.
2012, R, 116 mins.
Michelle Williams: Margot / Seth Rogen: Lou / Luke Kirby: Daniel / Sarah Silverman: Geraldine
Written and directed by Sarah Polley
Polley’s TAKE THIS WALTZ - her latest venture after her directorial debut AWAY FROM HER - draws worthy comparisons to BLUE
VALENTINE in the manner that both films take a tough and
uncompromising look at the tense fragility of young relationships and
marriages. TAKE THIS WALTZ is
about a young woman that’s seemingly content and happily wed, but
something is just…off…and she can’t readily identify it.
She has come to a crossroads that an alarming number of freshly
married people seem to have arrived at these days: at a time when being
married in your twenties should be a cause for jubilation, she seems more
melancholic and jaded with the experience.
eventually drawn into the temptation of having an affair with another man,
which gives what she thinks is a blasé marriage a
necessary dosage of sinful fantasy. She
both wants this man and doesn’t. Yet,
Polley never paints her film with broad and sensationalistic strokes
worthy of a soap opera; she’s more compelled to look at the tidal wave
of conflicting emotions in the troubled wife flirting with adultery.
Her female character feels guilty of potentially giving into such enticements and, at the same
time, deeply saddened at the what if possibilities of not relenting.
Very few dramas that I’ve seen lately have painted such a complex,
penetrating, and painfully honest portrayal of a woman struggling with
choices as TAKE THIS WALTZ does, and because of that it fully cements
Polley as a fully confident and poised filmmaker.
woman in question is Margot (Michelle Williams), a 28-year-old copywriter
living in Toronto with her husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), a culinary expert
who wishes to write and publish a book on chicken recipes.
They have been married for over five years and they seem to be
deeply in love with one another, but there appears to be a rife very slowly
and methodically forming between them, even though the generally
happy-go-lucky Lou does not notice. Love
is there, but the spark of heated passion is fairly null and void.
Things get complicated for Margot, though, when she meets a
proverbial tall and handsome stranger that she can’t seem to get out of her
man is Daniel (Luke Kirby), a starving artist, rickshaw driver, and
self-described “modern day hobo.”
Margot meets him, of of all places, while on a trip to Louisbourg, Cape Breton,
which is the site of an 18th Century French Fort and National
Park. They reacquaint on the
flight back home and share a cab together. The attraction they respectfully feel for one another is
there, which makes it really awkward when she reveals to him – after
spending several hours on a plane and in a cab with him – that’s
she’s married. Why she did
not immediately tell him that upon first meeting is something even she can’t
ensue when she discovers that he lives across the street from her.
dynamic that Polley creates with the characters is quietly compelling.
Margot has no desire to end her marriage – despite the daily
hiccups that impede it – but she is nonetheless drawn to her brooding
new neighbor that offers limitless possibilities.
Daniel is not simplistically portrayed as a selfish home-wrecker
either: he too is just as conflicted about the thought of ruining
Margot’s marriage (he neither throws himself at her nor does he
completely stay away from her). Daniel
sort of remains at a semi-distant arm’s length, relaying to her that he’s
available while also suggesting that he does not want to overtly sabotage
her married life. Lust,
yearning, and the allure something new has never felt as potent and tense
to its respective characters as it does in this film.
and Daniel manage to find ways to purposely come in contact with one
another, all while the innocent and unsuspecting Lou continues to
gleefully work away on his book. They
engage in initially flirtatious small talk that later segues – in an
astonishing scene – of Daniel graphically describing what he’d like to
do to her if only she would allow it (she never stops him once during his
pornographic monologue of intent). They
have afternoon martinis, go for walks, take ferry rides, and share a ride
at the midway (set to The Buggle’s “Video Killed the Radio Star”
blaring in the background) where they seem inches away from beginning an
affair. Resisting Daniel is the right thing to do in Margot’s mind, but she seems
more burdened by her feelings of not being with him.
BLUE VALENTINE, BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN,
and MY WEEK WITH MARILYN did not
prove it already, then TAKE THIS WALTZ all but cements Michelle Williams
as one of the shrewdest, unpredictable, courageous, and cunning actresses
of her generation. She hurtles herself headfirst without any hesitations into
the role of Margot and it's amazing how discrete she is at never tipping off
an overreaching arc for the character.
Margot is not painted as a victim, or as a cruel adulterer, or as
an innocent babe in the woods, or as likeable or hatefully conceited
woman. She’s decent hearted
and egocentric at the same time, not to mention deeply uncertain and
tormented as to her own self-absorbed entitlement issues.
Both Polley’s meticulous direction and William’s astonishingly
layered performance conveys all of the paradoxes of this soul consumed by
choice. It’s one of the
most multifaceted female characters in a movie in a long while, and
Williams is a shoe-in for a fourth Oscar nomination. The other
performances are just as thankless. Kirby
has a very tricky task of playing the obligatory heartthrob that subtly
lures Margot in, but he’s not a vile or reprehensible; if anything,
Kirby’s performance is one of skilful reticence: he clearly loves
Margot, but does not want to hurt her either.
At the same time, Rogen has never given such a lived-in and
naturally restrained performance: he dials down his comedic instincts and
instead makes Lou a likeable, sincere, and vulnerable individual.
He's a nice guy that seems doomed to finish last.
also does something interesting with the look of the film. Along with
cinematographer Luc Montpellier, she makes Toronto a character in itself,
which is refreshing seeing the city play itself after years of it being
substituted for American locales in Hollywood films.
TAKE THIS WALTZ has a warm and hot color palette, reinforcing the
sweltering heat of Toronto’s summers while simultaneously symbolizing
the feverous desires of its characters.
Polley creates two scenes in particular of uncommon power and
precision: One involves a
bravura spinning camera montage chronicling the escalation of Daniel and
Margot’s relationship over the course of some time, during which Leonard
Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” hums in the background.
Then there is an incredibly intimate and raw scene in a swimming pool
shower room where Margot, her sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) and other
women discuss sex and marriage. Polley lingers on long shots of all the completely nude women
– some aging and elderly – from head to toe to, I think, express a few
key points: (a) how modern movies uses female nudity for the soul purposes
of unnatural titillation and eroticism, which her scene does not subscribe
to and (b) how the older women give instructive advice to Sarah that you
suspect she will not heed. How
TAKE THIS WALTZ – if it were to have any faults – is not an easy film to like, per se, mostly because the characters defy simple and perfunctory definitions of affability; they’re far too intricately developed and conflicted for tedious descriptors like that. There’s a subplot involving Silverman’s character and her battle with sobriety that somewhat distracts from the whole. Yet, there is rarely a moment of dramatic dishonesty all throughout Polley’s exquisitely rendered film. Whether or not Margot gives into temptation is not as important as to the tortuous journey she embarks on throughout the film towards making such a fateful decision, and Williams is an absolute marvel playing an imperfect woman driving herself into an imperfect situation.