Mark Reviews Movies

Take This Waltz

TAKE THIS WALTZ

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sarah Polley

Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman

MPAA Rating: R (for language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity)

Running Time: 1:56

Release Date: 6/29/12 (limited); 7/13/12 (wider)


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Review by Mark Dujsik | July 12, 2012

Margot (Michelle Williams), the central figure of Take This Waltz, is unhappy, and she doesn't even realize it. Her life has become routine. She spends time with the same friends and family members. She does the same things over and over every day.

She's married to a nice enough guy named Lou (Seth Rogen). They have their private jokes (The primary one is saying how much they love each other by telling what horrific things each would do the other); they wake up late each morning with laughs and smiles. There's not much more for which to ask, but, again, it's routine. Lou is in the process of writing a cookbook about chicken, meaning that even their meals are predictable. After all, he has to test out all those recipes—each and every night.

She has never voiced these concerns, and she probably never would have except that she randomly meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) on an airplane. She's off-putting toward him at first, but they start talking during their trek from the plane to their respective homes. He suggests they share a cab, and—he plays a little game with her—she'll find out why soon enough. Their conversation turns to some innocent flirting, at which point Margot points out that she's married. "That's too bad," Daniel says as she arrives home; he lives across the street. She only has one word to respond to the revelation.

The film, written and directed by Sarah Polley, is anchored almost completely by Williams' performance.  She is vulnerable and just a little naïve—at least enough to believe that she can fight her blossoming attraction to this man who knows all the right things to say. Daniel is sincere in his flattery, even if an extended monologue of what he would do to her if they got up and left a coffee shop together turns into something out of a cheap romance novel (i.e., long passages of time spent just exploring her body). The promise of sex is there, for certain, but Margot craves the attention more.

That is, perhaps, why she not only tolerates but also seems to approve of Daniel's behavior, which, beyond the lengthy and lurid speech, is oftentimes brash and intrusive. He follows Margot to such places as her water aerobics class, where she winds up laughing so hard at the entire situation that she turns the water blue (Note that this is both a euphemism and entirely accurate). She's more than eager to reciprocate his approaches to a point. She waits on her porch early in the morning for him to start work as a rickshaw runner and has no qualms going to his home, where she sees a painting he made of her.

This is trouble waiting to happen. Lou's sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) seems to see the entire thing playing out just from noticing the two look at each other when he follows her to the pool. Without speaking to the situation directly, Geraldine gives a compact little summary of the film's central theme. She knows quite a bit about temptation and regret, being a recovering alcoholic. Margot doesn't hear anything her sister-in-law has to say; the lure of something different—even a fantasy—is too strong.

Even so, her marriage is important to her. Margot never speaks against Lou, although she never disagrees when Daniel makes his own inferences about the couple's relationship. She still loves Lou, to whom she's been married for about five years, and approaches her time with Daniel as wish fulfillment without any actual fulfillment (Even a sequence of unbridled momentary joy for Margot while on a carnival ride is interrupted just as she's given into the experience). After being tantalized by his speech at the coffee shop, she insists that they don't go any further than just talking about it; maybe, Margot says, she will give in and kiss Daniel. She even sets a date and a location for this event—decades down the road. After being married and faithful that long, she argues mostly to herself, she deserves a kiss.

There's strength to Margot, too, and that internal conflict is tangible in Williams' performance. Polley's scenario depends entirely on Margot's mental balancing act, weighing in each moment her loyalty to her husband and her passion for Daniel—the family she has and the individual desire she could satisfy. It could, of course, lead to more with Daniel, but slowly we begin to realize that Margot's discontent has very little to do with either Lou or Daniel (A dreamy opening scene, in which she bakes while an out-of-focus man stands in the corner, hints at that; it doesn't matter if the unseen man is Lou, Daniel, or someone else).

The pacing of the majority of the film is relaxed, allowing the characters room to breathe (This is, unfortunately, a detriment when it comes to Daniel, who becomes less endearing the more we see of him). The final act, though, compresses time so that the results of Margot's eventual decision come to fruition. The irony of the consequences is somewhat a foregone conclusion, but Take This Waltz ensures those effects have some emotional weight.

Copyright © 2012 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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