Take This Waltz (2011) / Drama-Romance

MPAA rated: R for language, some strong sexual content, and nudity
Running time: 116 min.

Cast: Michelle WIlliams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Director: Sarah Polley
Screenplay: Sarah Polley
Review published December 8, 2012

Take This Waltz 2011 Sarah PolleyTake This Waltz (its title comes from a Leonard Cohen song) represents Sarah Polley's (Away From Her, All I Want for Christmas) second full-length effort as both writer and director, and further solidifies her presence as a uniquely talented, visionary filmmaker. Writing every character as complex people who try to to good, even though their actions can sometimes cause hurt in others, there is much truth to be found within the confines of the storyline, even if the plot follows a few contrivances in order to affect the story in weird, wild and sometimes wonderful ways. Polley represents life as a messy, mysterious thing that one can never fully explore, as difficult life choices determine the paths we all follow, and actions do indeed have consequences that deliver both good and bad results.

Michelle Williams (Shutter Island, The Hottest State) stars as restless 28-year-old Toronto freelance writer, Margot, who is in a loving marriage with hubby Lou (Rogen, The Green Hornet), a wannabe cookbook author, but the marriage has settled in to the point where the initial sizzle of passion has long since dissipated. While out on a job, Margot runs into a handsome bohemian artist type named Daniel (Kirby, The Greatest Game Ever Played), a man she later sits next to on the plane ride home, only to learn that he lives right across the street. Danuiel supports himself by working days out and about as a rickshaw driver, and he stirs her in a new and exciting way she hasn't felt before. As he begins to follow her wherever she may go, and she begins to like the attention, their flirtatious acquaintanceship develops into a semi-courtship, but Margot's desire to stay faithful prevents her from daring to cross the line completely. Stuck between her desire Daniel and her love for Lou, Margot is at a crossroads on what she should do to find happiness.

Williams is stellar in the part of Margot, completely transformative in the role of a meek, lonely, and playful (but shy) woman whose flights of fancy allow her to rather easily get caught up when an attractive young man plays suitor, despite her already being in a committed relationship. Feelings are stirred up that she has never felt before, and while she doesn't like what they might mean, they seem too attractive to stay away from when compared to the already pat and predictable pace of her current marriage, which offers little newness or romantic spark. Williams masterfully shows how the woman can slowly begin to unravel in her feelings, wanting to occupy both lives, the one she's chosen and the one she wishes she could pursue, but afraid to lose either. She imbues her character with that look of desire to be swept off her feet but remain firmly on the ground at the same time, stirring feelings both wonderful and painful at the same time.

The rest of the actors are also quite good, with Seth Rogen delivering one of his finer performances in a movie to date as the good and honorable husband who deeply loves the wife who seems to be slipping away. In many films of this ilk, the husband would appear to be negligent in some form or fashion that would justify a break for the woman to find someone new, but Polley plays it all out in realistic fashion, where the allure of the new and unknown is what drives the would-be romance, which only increases the heartbreak of the situation with each passing flirtation. Luke Kirby plays the unenviable role of the Casanova who threatens to wreck a seemingly solid marriage, but even his character isn't written as one-dimensional, desirous of Margot but making sure that, if she really wants to be with him, that it is her that makes the moves. He plays just as conflicted about things as she is, though without that overwhelming sense of guilt, as he doesn't firmly believe in traditional marriage and ownership. Also chipping in is comedian Sarah Silverman (School for Scoundrels, Rent) as Margot's sister-in-law, Geraldine (aka Geri) a recovering alcoholic who sees things in life for what they are, without the rose-colored outlook of Margot's flights of fancy.

Although the movie is funny at times, Polley plays much of it as a dramatic romance, scoring laughs through its characters because they just happen to share a healthy sense of humor about things. Symbolism abounds, as Margot begins the film by being 'volunteered' to perform a mock flogging during a historical re-enactment of someone being severely punished for adultery. Margot also states early in the film about how she hate to fly because of she hates the feeling of being "in between connections", which foreshadows her state of being in between the two men she has a fondness for. And yet she also thrives off of the feeling of losing herself, with her favorite place to go being a carnival ride (the 'Scrambler') filled with bright lights and music where she can lose herself spinning with the feeling of being out of control. There is a desire for the firm foundations of destinations, and yet there is a certain thrill of the sparkle and allure of new sensations which fosters the notion of a woman who is searching to fill a void that can never quite be filled by staying still too long. As she rides the ride, the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" cynically suggest that what's new, flashy and superficially romanticized will win out over the those older, more deep and spiritual forms, despite the fleeting nature of the former and the lasting resonance of the latter.

Take This Waltz is an astute and very perceptive (albeit highly quirky) character study of a woman who has trouble deciding whether the feeling of falling in love is what's true versus the actuality of being in love. As one character in the movie states, there's something about new things that is wonderful, only for another to chime in that new things get old.
Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo