Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark...

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Canadian Film Review: Take This Waltz (2012)

* * *

Director: Sarah Polley
Starring: Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Seth Rogan

It's difficult to think of Take This Waltz without comparing it to writer/director Sarah Polley's previous film, Away From Her, or to star Michelle Williams' previous film about an unhappy marriage, Blue Valentine (not to mention the wealth of other stories of this kind). Taken in consideration with those films, Take This Waltz is a bit of a disappointment. Taken on its own terms, it's a perfectly fine, though never great, film about restlessness in the face of commitment and finality (and, hey, if Williams is in danger of becoming the cinematic patron saint of unhappy wives, at least she finds different notes to play in each of them).

Williams stars as Margot, a writer living in Toronto with her husband, Lou (Seth Rogan), a cook book writer. The two have a passionless, albeit affectionate relationship, though it might be noted that their affection for each other is expressed in fairly childish ways, like baby talk and cutesy descriptions of how they would maim and kill each other (it sounds weird, but it actually is kind of cute the way they do it). When they attempt to relate to each other as adults, the results are far more tense, as in a brutal scene which takes place on their anniversary when she tries to have a conversation with him and he basically states that he has nothing left to talk to her about. Neither Margot nor Lou is unhappy necessarily, but they aren't happy either and their marriage seems to be held together more by a sense of habit and obligation than an actual desire to be together.

While on assignment Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), who looks familiar to her and whom she later discovers lives down the street. They develop a friendship - or, rather, they develop the pretense of a friendship which acts as a thin veil for what's really going on between them. The attraction between them is obvious and they begin to edge closer and closer to each other. "Will they or won't they," however, isn't really the question that the film is concerned with and the answer isn't the end; the film is about why they will or they won't and about how the answer may only result in a temporary solution, a means of staving off the inevitable rather than eliminating the inevitability.

There's a lot about Take This Waltz that feels familiar, including the restrained quirkiness that colors its edges, but because Polley takes such an intense interest in the characters, not letting them be defined by quirks or boxed in by narrative convention, it can't be dismissed as simply another movie of its kind. There's an intelligence and a sense of honesty to the film and characters that confirms Polley's status as a filmmaker whose development and career will be well worth watching. There's no "villain" in this film, as there would be in a lesser one; Lou is not a brute who mistreats Margot, Daniel is not a snake in the grass, and Margot is not careless of the feelings of either man. If anything, the film feels compassion for all three and the predicament that they find themselves in, making it perhaps the kindest film ever made about the breakup of a marriage.

In the lead role Williams turns in another excellent performance playing a character conflicted about her feelings and terrified of having to make a choice (she expresses at the beginning that she hates to be between things, and that's exactly the position that she finds herself in for the entire film). A character like that could easily be frustrating to watch but instead Williams is able to make her seem sympathetic, and the relationships that she builds with both Rogan and Kirby feel authentic. Both actors are solid in their roles and Sarah Silverman, in a small role as Lou's alcoholic sister, renders a surprisingly layered performance that offers a nice counterpoint to Williams', but ultimately it is all about Williams and about Margot. I don't know that I'd qualify Take This Waltz as a "must see," but it's certainly a "should see" and a solid addition to the filmmographies of all involved.

1 comment:

Alex Withrow said...

Really fair review here. We agree 100% on this movie. Williams was superb, and the other actors were fine as well, but the film overall was a bit disappointing. Well done!