Friday, July 27, 2012

Take This Waltz ★★★½

Exploring Relationships Both New And Old

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Many films in the past have dealt with the subject of relationships in flux; a couple that at one time were so in love to the point where they could not control themselves but over time have lost much of that initial passion. Take This Waltz, the highly anticipated second feature from writer and director Sarah Polley, provides unique examination into this type of couple.

Michelle Williams stars as Margot, a freelance writer living in Toronto, Canada, with her husband Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook author. She tries to be sexual and spontaneous with him but for whatever reason, he's not as interested as she'd like. Meanwhile, she meets a rickshaw driver named Daniel (Luke Kirby), who also happens to live across the street from her, and their instant attraction is undeniable. 

The theme of the film is the idea that new things get old, and while it is a pessimistic view of how relationships work, Polley dives into the subject matter head first, never straying away from the story she wants to tell. That sense of something new is explored in one very sexual - and at times uncomfortable - scene in which Margot asks Daniel to describe what he would do to her if he could have her. It's an odd scene to witness in that I'm sure no two people will have the same reaction to it, but it works perfectly. It illustrates Polley's gift for adding her own spin to something that has been explored numerous times. Juxtaposed with that scene is one that occurs toward the end of the film, where a montage illustrating the passing of time shows a relationship beginning and then settling into comfortability, with their sexual appetite gradually fading. Polley's stance is that no matter who one is with, eventually we all feel unfulfilled. 

Polley excels in scenes like these but loses some of her touch in others. I don't think she's particularly gifted at showing how couples behave around one another. The scenes with Rogen and Williams are not all that believable, largely because I don't think any genuine couple "play" as they do. I think Polley intends to make these two characters seem cute - they speak in baby talk, express their love by saying things like, "I love you so much I'm going to mash your head in with a potato masher," but the result makes them more annoying than anything else. In addition, Rogen seems horribly miscast as Lou. He's an actor I have never really admired, and he proves why there's not that much to his talent in his scenes. Rogen seems uncomfortable and awkward playing a loving - albeit somewhat distanced - husband. The argument could be made that this is due to how the character is written, but I disagree. Rogen simply does not know how to play a character in love.  

While Rogen fails to be endearing in any sense, others in the film are very memorable, such as Sarah Silverman as Margot's sister-in-law and recovering alcoholic, Geraldine. Silverman steals every scene she's in and proves some of the best comics in the business have even more to offer in a dramatic role. In addition, Williams displays her innate talent by making her character sympathetic and likable, despite the fact that she's doing this despicable act to her husband. Whatever your belief on sustaining a relationship, she makes us understand why she's seeking out this other man through her performance. It's a tricky part to play but Williams owns it. 

Polley's directing and certain performances are not the only elements that stand out in Take This Waltz. One of the most important aspects in any film, at least for me, is the use of location as a character. The film was shot and takes place in Toronto, and cinematography by Luc Montpellier conveys a love and admiration for this beautiful city. We believe that these characters live in Toronto (despite their lack of any kind of Canadian accent) and the story immerses us in Toronto's culture. Thus, Take This Waltz is a film of this time and of that place.

For these, and many other reasons, Take This Waltz won me over, despite its flaws. Polley is a gifted filmmaker who knows the story she wants to tell and adheres to it, no matter how uncomfortable certain scenes might make her audience. She's a director deserving of our attention as well as our praise and one whose future films I'm excited to see.


  1. Good review Matt. The performances here were great but the problem I had was that the story just didn't make me feel anything for Margot and the dude that she was setting her sights on the whole movie. He was kind of a deuche actually, but the last 15 minutes made up for all of that.

    1. Yeah, it had its problems but overall the film won me over. I didn't mind Kirby as much as Rogen. Thanks for reading! :-)

  2. I loved "Away From Her."
    It broke my heart.

    "Take This Waltz," as much as I wanted to like it, I couldn't...because I just hated all the characters.
    Couldn't care about them.