Watched May 26, 2012
Mitchell Beaupre’s review:
After stunning the film world with her Oscar-nominated writing/directing debut Away From Her, Sarah Polley has made her return behind the camera with this year's Take This Waltz. Taking place in Toronto, Waltz is a rumination on themes of infidelity, melancholy and the general state of ennui that can come to a person who feels stalled in their '20s. In an age often described as the prime of life, 28-year old Margot is in a kind, loving marriage with Lou (Seth Rogen). On a plane trip home she runs into Daniel (Luke Kirby) and strikes up a cute flirtation with him, which is made unsettling by the realization that he has recently moved in directly across the street from her. It's a contrived premise, but Polley is wise to quickly move away from that set up and begin her focus on the study of Margot and her internal conflict.
Margot is a woman who knows that she loves her husband and he loves her; they play cute little games every day and live a safe, quiet life together. However, she finds herself constantly tempted by the new fruit within an arm's reach and struggles to fight this desire of hers. Anyone who has followed the careers of Sarah Polley and Michelle Williams would know instantly that these two teaming up couldn't be more appropriate. Polley never received the level of attention that she deserved as an actress, but her deep and touchingly human performances in films like My Life Without Me and The Secret Life of Words are the kinds of roles that you could easily see Williams taking on at this stage in her career. They have a similar desire to tackle genuine stories about women, with all of the flaws and heartache that can come with them.
Polley has never been one to hide from tough subjects and I'm sure for many they would find Take This Waltz a frustrating viewing; why should we care about a protagonist who is considering cheating on her husband? A potentially valid question, but Polley quickly establishes Margot as a fully-fleshed out human being and Williams follows suit by making her feel whole. Everyone is flawed and Margot's flaws extend to her desire for something new, as Waltz becomes about much more than just a woman who may want something outside of her marriage. Margot's state of discontent isn't restricted simply to her marriage; she feels lost in everything, and doesn't know what she needs in order to overcome it. At one point in the film, she tells Daniel that, "Sometimes I'm walking down the street, and the shaft of sunlight falls in a certain way across the pavement, and I just want to cry. And then a second later, it's over. And I decide, because I'm an adult, to not succumb to the momentary melancholy."
This is a line that speaks for Margot's state throughout the entire film. Her "momentary melancholy" seems to extend through her entire day-to-day life. Through every moment of playfulness with Lou she still remains not entirely at bliss with her life, and Daniel comes along as a charming young man who tempts her to stray in the hopes of finding that thing that is going to make her happy finally. Margot, at her core, is a good person and Williams at times lights up the screen with her natural charm and beauty, making it practically impossible to not sympathize with her or want her to be happy. Take This Waltz is the rare film that doesn't have a bad guy at all. Margot and Lou's marriage isn't an unhappy one; he doesn't beat her, they don't fight anymore than any other couple does, there is just something missing. She's gotten so comfortable with not moving anywhere and it leaves her feeling lost and partially empty.
Daniel isn't a bad guy either, though, he's not after Margot in a purely carnal fashion; he seems to genuinely care for her deeply and as the film progresses I found myself caring considerably for him as well as Margot and Lou. Luke Kirby is excellent in this role, capturing that effortless charisma and wit that makes Daniel so instantly appealing to Margot but also shifting believably into the role of a decent guy who loves a woman restricted against her desires for him. Watching him as he sees Margot and Lou together, you can feel the pain he's hiding beneath those eyes and it's heartbreaking. Which isn't to say that I wanted Margot to leave her husband and be with Daniel, as Lou is a great guy as well.
Seth Rogen isn't the immediate choice you'd expect for this kind of dramatic role, but he brings his teddy bear persona into the adult world with a performance that feels quite grown from the man-boys he's become famous for. Lou is a sweetheart, and he loves Margot as much as anyone can love a person, which makes Margot's conflict even stronger. It would be easy for her to leave Lou if he was a bastard, but he's not at all and she would never want to do something to hurt him.
Polley writes with such confidence in her work and it shows through wonderfully in the way her characters grow and the dynamics evolve. She has only written two feature films so far but already she has established herself as a tremendous talent, especially when it comes to creating these incredibly real female leads, something that is far too rare in modern cinema. The film would be nothing without Polley's skill, and just as important to it's success is the performance from Michelle Williams, who considers to improve her track record as perhaps the finest actress working today.
Williams captures every ounce of Margot that Polley presents to her, from that tragic ennui to the beauty that she can be capable of seeing when her fears are able to wash away. There's a scene where Margot and Daniel go for an amusement ride, which turns the lights low and plays loud music. As she describes it to Daniel, you can see her face light up at the prospect of going somewhere that makes it impossible to think or worry about life or any of it's many temptations. During the scene she begins to let herself loose, enjoying this moment of peace without a care in the world. It ends abruptly, as the lights come back on and the music stops and in Williams' changed expression you can see how much it hurts Margot to be back in this world with all of the problems that anyone of her age (or any age, really) has to face.
Take This Waltz is a magnificent achievement from everyone involved, not the least of which being a magnificent work from Michelle Williams. As told by Polley, it's a moving and incredibly true exploration into an aspect of life that is rarely explored. Polley's approach lacks the kind of dramatic punch that one often finds in films dealing with the subject of adultery. There's no erotic lighting, no sweaty bodies crashing into one another, and no shouting matches between splintered lovers. She removes it of all the typical bells and whistles that could make something like this appeal to a mainstream Hollywood audience and instead creates a soft, touching and remarkably human film. It's something that deserves to be admired.