Take this Waltz
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 5th August 2012
Pale blue painted toes pattering across the kitchen floor and an indie chick singing plaintively to her guitar on the soundtrack set the tone for this story of love given, tempted and thwarted.
Take This Waltz is by turns cutesy, angsty, truthful and frustrating. While frequently funny, this is no Hollywood rom-com. Instead, it is a mostly affecting portrait of the fragility of a real-life relationship.
The brilliant Michelle Williams, whose Marilyn impersonation was Oscar-nominated, but whose performance in 2010’s Blue Valentine showed the true depth of her talent, plays Margot – married for five years to the sweet, obliging Lou (a valiantly straight-faced turn by an excellent Seth Rogen). They mosey through life over the course of a sweltering Toronto summer, blending play-fighting and baby-talking with the more mature hurdles of married life. Margot “writes” (which is to say she mostly bakes and goes swimming). Lou cooks and is creating a bestselling chicken cookbook. As in Friends, one of the more unlikely notions of the film is that their lovely house could be financed by these occupations, but let’s not dwell on that because you don’t want to ruin the magic.
Despite their happy circumstance, one day Margot meets and is drawn to Daniel (Luke Kirby), a rickshaw-driving artist who is immediately smitten and seeks to understand her inner being. Her ostensibly content life is suddenly thrown into relief as Margot battles with the stirring of feelings she wants, doesn’t want, and possibly can’t handle.
The film’s greatest strength is in its three central performances, drawn by director Sarah Polley without caricature or judgement, and helpfully making it hard for us as voyeurs to know quite how we’d act in the same situation. Our response will depend on our own values and experiences, but Polley (this only her second feature after the excellent Away From Her) doesn’t give us an easy out. Lou and Margot aren’t miserable; he doesn’t mistreat or neglect her. This is normal, real people stuff, with an all-too-common opportunity the young lovers had never bargained for. While Williams’ Margot sometimes irritates with all her juvenile attention-seeking (accentuated by childish but pretty outfits), there is a truth to her longing for attachment which conflicts with freely admitting to the handsome stranger that she’s “scared of connections”. (It’s hardly a subtle pointer, and Daniel doesn’t think so either – but it speaks to Margot’s subsequent dilemma.)
The strong trio are supported by comedienne Sarah Silverman in a surprisingly well-played dramatic role, and all the women in the film display an easy relationship between wise old friends and loyal sisters-in-law.
Expectation of an “infidelity drama” is turned on its head with an unexpected nude scene and some fully-clothed erotica. The dialogue is easy and comfortable, often laugh-out-loud funny in its sweetness, then intense at other times. It may unnerve some, but for others it will prove a heartrending exploration of love.