Take This Waltz- A Review
September 8, 2012
By: Rasha Touqan
If there is one topic that the arts have never given up on, it would have to be that of love and relationships. Some artists have championed it; others have shunned it. Very few films have really tackled the complex, sometimes ugly nature of ‘romantic’ love. Actress and sometimes director Sarah Polley’s latest film Take This Waltz is a sweet, but uncompromising entry into the banal romantic drama genre. In fact, it is almost a shame that it should be labeled as such. The Notebook, this is not. But with its delicious colors, warm cinematography and almost saccharine indie sensibility, the harsh lessons it has to offer on the fickleness of love come as a surprisingly bitter aftertaste. Never has a movie dealing with somewhat depressing topics come through with such warmth and a glittering use of pop music.
The film revolves around the childish, awkwardly nervous Margot (played by a divine Michelle Williams), a would-be writer who lacks ambition and purpose. Instead, she works as a brochure writer for Parks Canada. On an assignment, she meets a handsome, assertive stranger Daniel. A hipster cliché, he is an artist who works a menial job. He teases his prey with prying comments, challenging her cocooned little world. As it turns out, he lives right across the street. But Margot is married to Lou (a surprisingly good Seth Rogen), a cookbook writer specializing in chicken (a very unsubtle metaphor). She finds herself stuck between the child-like comfort of her marriage and the romantic notion of a torrid affair.
It must be noted that this isn’t Unfaithful for hipsters. The outcome is known from the first 15 minutes and, yet, it doesn’t matter. This is a complex observation of contemporary relationships within a certain socio-economic setting. It is a film where the journey is what makes the film, not the outcome. Take This Waltz is more than a sum of its parts. It has so many hidden layers. In fact, it comes after a slew of insightful dramas, such as The Descendents and Blue Valentine. Take This Waltz can be considered a photo negative of Blue Valentine, another film starring Michelle Williams that deals with the decline of love. Both have very different veneers. Yet, when you peel away the text, the heart of the matter is the same. People drift apart. People put more emphasis on the idea of love than the actual mechanics of a relationship. Like an unforeseen uprising, people are dumbfounded when it ends.
Sarah Polley, who also wrote the film, writes a very intelligent story. She doesn’t try to make Margot plucky or an unsung heroine trapped in a suffocating marriage. There are no easy ways out for the audience. Margot is a flawed, immature, flaky and lives in a state of stunted childhood. She is a grown woman, but dresses and acts like a twelve-year-old. Yet, one of the most obvious themes of the film is the idea of replacing the new with the old and losing something along the way. In a way, this is a coming of age story for adults. There is one wonderfully constructed shower scene where a group of women are bathing and talking about change. The use of ungratuitous full-frontal nudity expresses this point greatly, juxtaposing the young nude bodies of Margot and her friends with those of some older women whose bodies have begun to sag. One of them ominously adds to discussion, “New things become old.” This theme is also seen in the amazing use of The Buggles’ guilty pleasure classic Video Killed the Radio Star. It can be said that cheese has never been used in a more sophisticated setting and makes for one of the most magical scenes on film.
Another point that no one really touches on, and very few films will go near, is the oft forgotten notion of the individual in the relationship. Somehow the concept of the couple overrules the importance of the individual. A good relationship supposedly makes people better, as opposed to the other way around. The film’s hidden and most subversive message is that satisfaction in a relationship can never be without one’s satisfaction with herself. Margot is shaky character. She is not motivated to improve her shriveled career or her non-existent writing. Her friendship group is limited to Lou’s family. She spends so much time with Lou himself that both have literally nothing to say on their anniversary dinner. So, it is no surprise to witness her lonely, melancholic predicament in the end. Polley turns the tables, where Margot’s marriage symbolizes an indefinite state of childhood and her affair is her crash course into adulthood. This adverse manipulation of clichéd notions on relationships is very clever. Also, this film has the most intense verbal sexual encounter that will make you blush.
Although Sarah Polley does so much right, there are some flaws to be noted. For one, it will be hard for economically conscious audiences to overlook the fact that these characters live in trendy Toronto neighborhoods and posh lofts doing such nothing jobs. Its hipster sensibility does come on a bit strong sometimes. Also, the first half tends to drag on. Yet, it isn’t an unpleasant journey. Polley enjoys spinning a web of subtle sexual fantasy and infatuation before pulling the rug from under her characters, pulling us along with them. She is proving to be an incredible writer/director with a powerful voice and a knack for storytelling. Take This Waltz boasts such wonderful performances. Michelle Williams is fantastic. She carries the film with excellence and charm, making her unlikeable character sympathetic. Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman are such a wonderful surprise. Both boast fantastic acting chops for once. This film is filled with wonderful moments that it’s difficult to add them all here. Whatever you think of this film, you will definitely have something to say about it.
Images courtesy of: Rottentomatoes.com