Film Review: "Take This Waltz"

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Film Review: "Take This Waltz"

 

Here is a rare film that actually means something. Truly. It’s called “Take This Waltz” and it is directed by Sarah Polley, a very underrated Canadian actress (watch this film on ip-locations org) whose directorial debut was the understated masterpiece “Away From Her.” “Take This Waltz” is a beautiful companion piece as another intimate portrait of a woman’s life crisis. In “Away From Her” it was Alzheimer’s and here it is the temptation of infidelity.

 

But it is difficult to reduce “Take This Waltz”to that line. Really, Polley captures the genuine essence of real life and burrows deep into its natural challenges. Most of the scenes unfold in small spaces, with human interest embedded in the subtle gestures of the characters. Polley’s new film works best when she steps back and does not manipulate the situation. She trusts her actors to carry the story forward and they do.

 

The film takes place in the smaller-than-life suburbs of Toronto, where the subdivisions are close to the woods and the houses’ interiors are colorful and petite. You are also very likely to run into your next door neighbour at the airport, which is what happens to our 28 year-old protagonist Margot (Michelle Williams). She meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist from across the street of whom she has instant chemistry with. He makes her laugh, in ways you can tell she has not experienced in awhile.

 

Margot is married, however, to Lou Rubin (Seth Rogen) who is loving, kind, decent…but that proverbial spark is gone. Their days consist of cuddling limply in bed and cooking chicken side-by-side but in a mentally detached state in the kitchen. Lou is a cookbook author, so his days are limited to the kitchen (as Margot protests: “you’re always…cooking!”).

 

Margot’s desires tilt towards Daniel, who drives a rickshaw as a side job. He runs into Margot in the morning, playfully accusing her of following him. The two share a coffee and engage in dirty talk. It’s a fantasy they conceive with Margot internalizing the notion that it will never happen. At least for now. They plan in their later years they will meet and share a kiss. The scene, from Daniel’s point-of-view, is more depressing than it is romantic. This is the type of complexity expressed in “Take This Waltz.”

 

Meanwhile, Margot is well aware of her attraction towards Daniel; she flirts and then withdraws at the more intimate moments. She dances along the line without crossing over it. At home, Lou is caring and oblivious to Margot’s secret affections. In one great scene the two are at their anniversary dinner and are not speaking. Margot begs Lou to say something, but he admits he knows everything about Margot so the silence is fine. This isn’t said indignantly, but with an odd tenderness. We realize Margot and Lou do love each other, but their love holds different demands.

 

This is a wise film. It knows so much about life and it is written in a way only possible by someone who has truly lived through these experiences. Polley, only 33, demonstrates great maturity in her craft. You never sense, dramatically, she is reaching for conflict or tinkering with our emotions. She trusts the audience are sympathetic and can relate and embrace the characters on screen.

 

Williams, younger at 31, is an effortless performer who plays all her roles – from “Wendy and Lucy” to “Brokeback Mountain”– on the right note and invites in our sympathy and understanding effortlessly. “Take This Waltz” might be her best performance, because it requires her to draw out Margot’s inner struggle through every line, breath, pause, and sequence. There is a supporting role by Canadian comedian Sarah Silverman as Margot’s alcoholic friend, but this is Williams’s movie.

 

If there is a criticism it is when Polley drops her guard and indulges in a more explicitly designed “indie” visual style. There are some flashy and glossy montages and nifty camera techniques that take away from the film’s profound simplicity. Most especially near the end when we witness two characters engaging in ripe sexual affairs. Polley’s camera tracks around them, unwinding time and bringing these characters, inevitably, to a state of sexual and personal dissatisfaction. At this point, style speaks for content and simplicity is swapped with a director’s self-indulgence.

 

It is possible to see some people struggling with “Take This Waltz”’s final moments. It can be argued that the film reveals itself too much. But I don’t think so. Polley’s decision to eschew open-ended conclusions bears its own effect. Instead, she bravely takes a stance on the inevitable pendulum of love, all to the ironic sanguine of The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” Here, Polley demonstrates a rare directorial skill by making a final statement without forcing judgment on her characters.

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