Take This Waltz ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

In Sarah Polley's second feature, Michelle Williams is a married writer in a rut, coping with a mutual awkwardness in her affable, slightly chilly relationship with her incessantly cooking husband (Seth Rogen, one of two attention-grabbing stunt casting decisions here) while nursing a growing erotic attraction to a neighbor (Luke Kirby); it's not a new story, but it is a well-observed one despite some occasional tone-deaf dialogue. It's just as often that the script trips you up (along with the actors, particularly Williams) with a scene so uncomfortably realistic it feels like it was lifted from your own past, or the past of someone you know -- Rogen and Williams disagreeing over the merits of having a conversation during an anniversary dinner, and a failed seduction in the kitchen, are horrendously cringey in the most admirable way. Polley's directorial choices throughout her documentation of the sickeningly inevitable fissure that ensues are audacious and abrasive, full of risks, without being (usually) gimmicky or overly artificial. During the imaginative central montage that captures the beginnings of a new relationship set to Leonard Cohen's title song, one is initially mortified by the stilted staging, slowly seduced and eventually enraptured, all in the space of about four minutes. The two "Video Killed the Radio Star" scenes are simpler but just as monumental, my only wish being that the second ended in the same fashion as the first; looking at Williams' face reminded me of Charlotte Rampling and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" at the close of 45 Years. There's so much pain and strangeness in the character that Polley chooses to capture, and -- odd music choices and all -- it all lives on in the mind with the complex, troubling emotions attendant to a particularly vivid dream.

It's a remarkable movie, but I do have some issues, or at least confusions. The use of Sarah Silverman's drunken sister-in-law as a commentary on Williams' life choices is a tad too Screenwriting 101, especially in comparison to the Borzage-like naturalism of what transpires elsewhere. It's a bizarre choice to give Kirby just one line for the remainder of the film after he and Williams become lovers, and seems unfair to him -- we're given to understand that the relationship, apart from sexually, becomes unsatisfying to her because of a lack of warmth, but besides a weird implication that couples who watch a lot of TV aren't really happy and an uncomfortable delay in an "I love you" response, we're given no trustworthy evidence of this... and the final scenes feel like an unconvincing violation of the character as established in the first two thirds of the movie, when he demonstrated plenty of integrity and respect and good judgment, even if not exclusively. There's also the fact that I don't really buy the narrative thesis Polley seems to push, and the one picked up on by most responses I found to the movie: that leaving Rogen for an influx of excitement was a mistake because she had a rapport with him that she would regret losing. Honestly, I would be intrigued by a movie about a really truly happy and well-rounded relationship that was interfered with by lust, because I don't think movies have treated that kind of situation with maturity since the Lubitsch days. That, to me, is not this movie; she's bored for good reasons, and in her arguments with Rogen there's not some sense of "well they both have a point," she's one hundred percent in the right! He is being a distant boor, and he is a dullard who's clearly uncomfortable with heavy emotions and uses humor as a defense mechanism, and having been in her position -- when, as she puts it, it takes all of her courage to try and seduce her spouse, only to find herself consistently rejected and then have it denied that she's being rejected -- it's not a healthy or good situation to live in. In fact it feels like a slow death and the movie is all too accurate in getting this across. I sincerely hope Polley's point is more that the enjoyable fling that gets you out of a bad relationship isn't necessarily the one that's going to last or the key to your enduring happiness, but considering the way Williams acts around Rogen at the finale, I have my doubts. Anyway I don't see why we can't have a movie about a happy fulfilling relationship in which the parties are warm to one another and kid around a lot but also have mind-blowing freaky sex; in the movies, at least mainstream movies of this upwardly mobile variety, these are mutually exclusive ideas, and well, thank god that's not true in real life.

Nathan liked this review