TAKE THIS WALTZ
Written & Directed by Sarah Polley
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Playing in NYC @ Film Society of Lincoln Center
Writer/Director Sarah Polley’s dramedy ‘Take this Waltz’ comes as a somewhat, long awaited follow-up to the (now part-time) actress’s soulful and haunting 2006 dementia tale, ‘Away from Her’. In that film (which garnered strong Oscar consideration for veteran actress Julie Christie), Polley utilized her perceptible cunning as a filmmaker to tell a story of the inevitability of age with a tender directorial eye and the wise hand of a screenwriter who surely wasn’t on the right side of 30 at the time. As a filmmaker, Polley finds her strengths as an actor’s director and a choreographer of color and nature, frequently employing the healing effects of undeniable humor found in some of life’s most unpleasant situations.
While ‘Away from Her’ found genuine poignancy and pathos in its balance of sweet, funny and sad, ‘Take this Waltz’ falters with the same philosophy. This isn’t to say that a more-then-capable cast does not do its best, or that Polley doesn’t provide us several sequences of authentic cinematic beauty, both natural and staged. What bogs down ‘Take this Waltz’ is its consistent attempts at finding the quirky in sadness, despair and loneliness. While humor, or quirk, may exist in instances of infidelity and alcoholism, when presented in such an overt affectation of less then metaphorical indie piousness, one is hard-pressed to gather any real emotional connection to a film asking some very big questions on the nature of true love and the modern incarnations of the “committed” relationship.
28 year old, freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) happens upon a chance of encounter with closeted “artist” and rickshaw (!) driver Daniel (Luke Kirby) while flogging a colonial adulterer at a Canadian equivalent of Williamsburg, Virginia. Paying virtually no mind to this initial encounter the two find themselves traveling together on a Toronto bound flight only to find out they also live across the street from each other. Margot is married to the big, gentle chicken cookbook writer Lou (Seth Rogen) going on 5 years. The duality in their marriage dynamic is evident from the get go, acting as if friendship may better serve their relationship in the “big picture”; they thumb war, constantly prank each other and find enjoyment in new and creative ways of torture by way of otherwise mundane household items. The relationship is not unhealthy, but the marriage is. There is disinterest in conversation, fear of intimacy and general sheepishness towards serious marital discourse.
Williams brings her ever expressive range of talents to the manically hipster Margot with (none too surprising) ease. She is ‘Blue Valentine’s’ Cindy as if played by Zooey Deschanel on anti-psychotics; a manic, pixy more in tune with the pathetic skidishness of a person ten years her junior then that of independent wife, worker and friend. Rogen does his best to find some hints of dramatic skill (which must interest him more and more as the gentle everyman typecast has now reached a farcical level) underneath the obligatory profanity. Though his depiction of loveable Lou does not stray too far from, well almost anything he’s done in the past decade, he employs a much heavier emotional punch then any of the other more “complicated” characters by simply keeping quiet more often.
As the instinctual animalistic attraction between Margot and Daniel grows over the course of a particularly hot summer (one accentuated by the strikingly rich color palette from Cinematographer Luc Montpellier), Lou remains committed to his wife and cacciatore equally (something that does not work to his marital advantage). The two neighbor’s share glances, walks, fantasies and an awful lot of (there’s that word again) quirky idiosyncrasies while speaking to each other in the most impudent of metaphorical convention (i.e. Margot hates flight layover’s because she’s afraid of being “in between things”). Daniel represents the pretty boy crush contrasted to Rogen’s loving oaf. He has all the instinct of the proverbial shark-in-the-water, smelling the blood of something much weaker, Margot being just that. It seems that a character of such emotional turmoil would not fall so easily for a smirk and a twinkle, but she does. Kirby does not sell Daniel as much more then scared adolescent who happens to possess an inviting smile. He is not intelligent, talented or insightful, yet Margot seems convinced he, no less then, embodies every one of those qualities.
‘Take this Waltz’ suggests that true love is deceptive, even at its most assured level. Its heart lies with the notion that what is new will always get old and that the cyclical nature that a life’s worth of love no longer guarantees a singular eternal commitment. The film is wise in not passing judgment on Margot, Daniel, Lou and his alcoholic sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman). By the time Margot and Daniel consummate their relationship to the tune of the film’s Leonard Cohen namesake (and in a loft apartment that surely deems Toronto as the place to find the world’s wealthiest rickshaw drivers), the idea that any salvation of her original relationship is doomed, and that is not entirely a bad thing. This is liberation for Lou, comfort for Margot and (at least, according to Kirby’s performance) inevitability for Daniel.
Unfortunately, the talent in ‘Take this Waltz’ is wasted all around, representing a distinct maturity regression for Polley as a writer. For every sequence of aesthetic promise (including a great scene of sensory irony on an amusement park ride) or lush, wide-angle shot of Canadian countryside, come extended sequences of excruciatingly existential sanctimony, throwing off any emotional affinity with characters and plot. By the time the film reaches any real emotional and structural cohesion (as Margot must live with the result of a bipolar mishap) it has already lost its footing on the ledge of indie self-righteousness.
– Steve Rickinson