Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Take This Waltz

TAKE THIS WALTZ (Sarah Polley, 2011)

28-year-old freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is happily married in TAKE THIS WALTZ, or so she’s always thought until meeting Daniel (Luke Kirby) while on an assignment in Nova Scotia.  They become briefly acquainted when he embarrasses her a little at a tourist attraction and then encounter each other again on a return flight to Toronto.  While sharing a cab on their ways home, they discover that he lives a couple doors down the street from her, although she seemingly puts an end to their flirty interactions by informing him that she has a husband.

Margot and her cookbook-writing spouse Lou (Seth Rogen) have been married for five years and appear to be very much in love.  Nevertheless, Margot is increasingly preoccupied with her neighbor and takes extra efforts to see him leaving his place and to bump into him on the street.  Daniel welcomes Margot’s interest.  He calls her out on her actions but otherwise slow plays his seduction, letting her cozy up to him.  Daniel also makes it clear he’s available to her whenever she’s ready.  Regardless of if Margot will ever physically surrender to him, she is committing emotional infidelity.  She knows it isn’t right, yet she doesn’t want to give it up either.

Early on Margot confesses to Daniel that she is afraid of wondering if she’ll miss something.  Within the context of their conversation she’s talking about connecting flights, but her behavior indicates that her fear is rooted in insecurity in her long-term choices.  After the newness wears off anything, such as her marriage, Margot requires constant reassurance that she possesses what she wants.  She doesn’t hide her confusion--the vaguely heart-shaped birthmark on her left shoulder suggests she displays her feelings for all to see--but she fails to confront the questions troubling her. Margot is a selfish character, yet Williams’ marvelous performance generates empathy for her even as she potentially destroys a solid relationship.  The inner struggle registers on her face like wind across the water.  
TAKE THIS WALTZ vibrates with the anticipation and thrill of temptation.  In the film’s sexiest scene, Margot and Daniel are having drinks when she asks him to detail what he would do to her if they were to consummate their relationship.  They laugh off his vivid descriptions when he’s finished, but this pivotal moment confirms that something greater than a lightly considered fantasy exists between them.  That this adultery takes part in words rather than deeds cuts to the crux of Margot’s dilemma.  She is chasing the ideal of something out there that might be better without realizing how doing so is ruining an already good thing she owns.

Writer-director Sarah Polley lingers on the intimate communication between spouses, friends, and would-be lovers to fill in the broader views of the relationships.  The genuine affection between Margot and Lou comes through in their silly private moments and the most violently expressed sweet nothings since PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE.  The between-the-lines advice Margot is given by her alcoholic sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) addresses suspicions while avoiding accusations.  Polley excels at conveying who these people are through observation rather than exposition and sticks to that style by favoring low-key resolutions.  The emotional climax is a model of restraint, especially since it’s where other films typically deploy fireworks.  This tempered approach rings true to the individuals Williams and Rogen have fleshed out..

Having taken its title from a Leonard Cohen song, TAKE THIS WALTZ is dedicated to providing a serious look at what can lead to marital unfaithfulness.  Unlike the singer’s work, the film is afflicted with a case of being overly precious.  The amount of time devoted to Margot and Lou’s lovey-dovey play can be a bit much.  Margot pretends to have mobility issues at the airport so she can be pushed around in a wheelchair to make the connecting flights she fears missing.  Somehow Daniel earns a living as a rickshaw driver in addition to being a secret artist in his spare time.  It’s no single element that leads to twee overload but the entirety of them.  

As she demonstrated in her debut feature AWAY FROM HER and proves again with TAKE THIS WALTZ, Polley has a knack for writing about mature subjects and coaxing natural performances, which is what makes the excessive quirkiness here somewhat exasperating.  Even with it, TAKE THIS WALTZ is an achingly beautiful film in the longing its characters express and the sun-dappled Toronto cinematographer Luc Montpellier captures.

Grade: B

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