A film review by Craig J. Koban July 4, 2012

RANK:  #15


2012, R, 116 mins.


Michelle Williams: Margot / Seth Rogen: Lou / Luke Kirby: Daniel / Sarah Silverman: Geraldine


Written and directed by Sarah Polley

Sarah 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.   

She’s 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.   

The 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 mind. 



The 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 understand.  Complications ensue when she discovers that he lives across the street from her.  Damn. 

The 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. 

Margot 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. 

If 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.   

Polley 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 sad, indeed. 

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.    

  H O M E