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 V.21 No.42 | October 18 - 24, 2012 

Film Review

Take This Waltz

Indie drama about infidelity hits like a cold shower

“No, I loved you in The Green Hornet.”
“No, I loved you in The Green Hornet.”

Take This Waltz

Directed by Sarah Polley

Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman

Love and sex and marriage are frequently inseparable things. But there are moments when they exist fully independent of one another. Just ask onetime indie film queen Sarah Polley (My Life Without Me, The Claim, Go, Last Night, The Sweet Hereafter, Exotica). After testing the writing-directing waters with her delicate 2006 Alzheimer’s drama Away From Her, Polley pauses to contemplates the gulf between love and desire in the complicated romantic ménage à trois Take This Waltz.

You could call this lushly romantic, ponderously emotional film a dramedy, but you’d be hard-pressed to recall any really funny bits after the credits roll. Polley does let a few nice moments of humor build naturally among the actors, but her emphasis is squarely on the fragile lifespan of human relationships. Front and center in this studied contemplation of troubled couplehood is next-gen indie goddess Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy, Brokeback Mountain). She plays Margot, a seemingly happy tourist brochure writer married to nice-guy chef Lou (Seth Rogen). Margot’s domestic bliss or contentment or whatever you want to label it gets shaken up, though, when she meets her damn-good-looking new neighbor Daniel (Canadian TV actor Luke Kirby).

Nothing beats Martinis for lunch.
Nothing beats Martinis for lunch.

For the majority of the movie, Margot considers having an affair. She flirts, she hides her emotions, she takes cold showers. Mostly, though, she looks confused about what she actually wants. Polley’s script is smart and her actors are perfectly confident with all the emotionally nakedness (to say nothing of the physical nakedness). But in many ways, Take This Waltz is the polar opposite of Williams’ last bad marriage trip Blue Valentine. Where Blue Valentine was painfully raw and real, Take This Waltz is gauzy and metaphorical. It’s very self-consciously a movie. And an arty one at that. It’s all about skillfully composed shots, gorgeous lighting, tightly scripted sequences of character development and telling dialogue. That’s not a criticism, precisely. In only her second feature directing assignment, Polley proves herself a confident visual essayist. Just don’t expect documentary-like realism here. Take This Waltz is more like a indie romantic comedy gone terribly sour.

The film hits a lot of high notes. Its restraint is admirable. Early, quietly erotic moments have a powerful hit to them. (Later, less-inhibited sequences are more debatable.) Williams is an increasingly accomplished actress and her character’s mercurial emotions are easy to read under her ennui-riddled face. I could watch her frown all day. But there’s a bit too much mystery to the story here. It’s never quite clear what’s at the heart of Margot and Lou’s domestic unease. They seem like a perfectly well-suited couple. They laugh, they play, they share countless inside jokes. Perhaps they’re too good at being best pals to be really successful lovers. Margot and Daniel, on the other hand, share readily discernible delectation. Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite sure where to go with their relationship.

There’s a great deal of truth on display in Take This Waltz. Sometimes whom we choose to love or lust after has nothing to do with disliking the person we’re with. But the vagueness and uncertainty of Polley’s script ends up leaving us viewers somewhat unclear on how we’re meant to feel about it all. I guess “be careful what you wish for” could be the moral of the story. Or not. Hard to say. There’s great beauty, hard truths and complex emotions running through this intimate little tale of one woman’s quest for fulfillment. If only it could have stepped away from its main character long enough to provide a bit more perspective.

 

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