Take This Waltz opens with one of the strangest meet cutes in recent memory. Margot (Michelle Williams) is taking a tour of a colonial village, getting writing ideas, when she’s pulled out of a crowd and handed the whip to flog the ‘prisoner’. She’s obviously not into it, weakly swinging until Daniel (Luke Kirby) encourages her to really give it a swing. She does, and instantly feels guilty, walking past him with a curt “You have some nerve, sir.” That would be it, except they find themselves sitting next to each other on the plane home, and soon that initial challenge comes to define an increasingly intense and sudden connection as they hop in the same cab only to discover that they’re practically neighbors.
The problem? Margot is married, has been for years, to a guy named Lou (Seth Rogen). She springs this on Daniel as they pull up to the street on which they live, dropping the bomb and watching him stare at her like she’s crazy, only to retreat to their separate lives. Margot, however, can’t help but constantly stare out the window at Daniel as he goes about his business, and struggles with the sudden potential for something new that has so unexpectedly fallen into her lap.
This sounds like the setup to a dozen middling romantic comedies, but what director and writer Sarah Polley does with the movie is instead imbue it with all the risks involved with actual emotions, taking the normal conditions and inserting real human feelings. You’d think that’d be an easy trick, but apparently not—it imbues the movie with a reality that seems to be lacking in nearly all the other entries into the genre, and moves it further from comedy and more deeply into drama as Margot’s indecision begins to unravel her life.
What’s key here is Michelle Williams, undoubtedly one of the best performers of her generation, who plays Margot as a woman stuck in a deep late-20s rut. She’s married, but it’s been so long that she’s forgotten why she bothered in the first place. Lou isn’t Rogen’s typical man-child, but a sweet-if-busy man who spends most of his time writing cookbooks and treating Margot more as a long-term roommate and friend than a lover and romantic partner. Her friends (including a surprisingly mellow Sarah Silverman) are settling into this quiet domestic life, but now that Margot feels the spark of something that isn’t, it's an inexorable temptation to stray.
To the credit of the film, this isn’t a movie about infidelity, and Margot’s temptations manifest much more gradually. She doesn’t fling herself into Daniel’s arms, but instead toys with the idea, a fantasy that she brings up with him with the frankness of strangers who initially met on the combative terms of sexual interest. And he does nothing but enable her, memorably describing exactly what it is he’d do to her if she were to follow him back to his apartment, a scene heavy with eroticism without being much more than two characters talking over coffee. It’s that kind of adventure that lures her in, an inertia that she’s far too ambivalent to escape, sucking her into this world of not-quite-cheating.
It’s a story of fickle desire struggling against the demands of adulthood, and it’s the kind of tale that could only exist in the circumstances of the setting. Taking place in the sun soaked, too-colorful-too-hot summer of the twee neighborhood in Toronto where they all live, it’s a summer romance ten years too late. Everyone’s an artist or pretends to be an artist, putting off the really scary adult things as long as possible, and affecting a position of open-mindedness that’s just spinning their wheels. No wonder Daniel can sweep her off her feet when she’s so convinced her life is missing some sense of adventure that she feels she’s owed.
It’s a tightrope to walk when the lead is only partially sympathetic, but Polley has a good eye for what her leads can and can’t perform and they skirt the line without going over. Margot often makes the choices we know are wrong, but does them for reasons we see her discover and react to. It’s that empathy, only pulled away in the briefest of moments, that offers the biggest gut punches of the film. There’s a moment of falling in love set to “Video Killed the Radio Star” in this movie that’s my favorite not just for how unabashedly romantic it is, but how suddenly it screams to a halt as we’re given a ‘real’ juxtaposition to the honeyed, heart-bursting sentimental version of the world that Margot wants so desperately to be true.
To say I was surprised by the sentiment at play in Take This Waltz would be an understatement. Its romantic drama is heartfelt without being saccharine, funny without devolving into gags and stereotypes, the kind of story that touches on an intense moment in life and simply lets it all play out, even past where the genre always says movies like this have to end (not to spill the particulars, but any other movie would have had the happily ever after ending 30 minutes before this movie actually ends). It’s earnest and brave, the type of movie about adulthood for adults that seems almost absent from the genre anymore. And I cannot recommend it enough.
Note: Take This Waltz is in limited release, but is also available for rental through video on demand services like Amazon, which is where I watched it for less than the price of a movie ticket while I was in bed with illness that is preventing me from seeing The Dark Knight Rises like every other human being this weekend.
Trailer: Take This Waltz
Adorable girl has to pick between two really nice guys in the latest film from Sarah Polley! Awww, isn't that sweet? Also, apparently Sarah Silverman gets completely naked. So there's that.
|review||Strap yourself in for the ride (4 out of 5)||biggest_loser|
|blog||TheLawnWrangler's Favorite Films of 2012 - PART 2||TheLawnWrangler|
|news||In Theaters: June 30th||staceywi|
|blog||Trailer Talk: Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz||TheLawnWrangler|
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