A happily married woman falls for the artist who lives across the street.
Ever since Blue Valentine there has been an increasing focus on indie anti-romance dramas with the likes of One Day, Like Crazy and now Sarah Polley's second feature Take this Waltz. An insufferable meditation on relationships, self-destruction and emptiness.
Gee, I wonder where Polley, 32 year old divorcee, drew inspiration for this screenplay...
Margot (played by Michelle William's at her most pixiest) is a woman afraid of 'being in between things.' But that's what she is; not quite ready to start a family but not as young as she used to be, she can't even settle in her wannabe writing career. We know this, not through Polley's visual storytelling but because she feels totally compelled to explain her deepest insecurities to a stranger she met just moments before. That stranger is Daniel, a creepy young artist and, eugh, rickshaw driver. The two cross paths on Holiday and just happen to be sitting beside eachother on the flight home. They immediately hit it off, bantering lightly, studying each other and playing flirtatiously. They get a cab together, Daniel assures her that there is no need to make two stops though, he can 'walk from her place.' Sure enough at the end of the cab ride they both have things to say; Margot begrudgingly reveals she's married, Daniel rather unbegrudgingly reveals that he lives just across the street. That is perhaps the most defining moment for both their characters; Margot is a woman who defines herself through her relationships, and the stability of her marriage leaves her empty and even old. Daniel on the other hand is enticed by her, and is hardly perturbed by the fact she is already committed.
Her husband, Lou (played, valiantly, by Seth Rogen) is a kind man who clearly loves his wife very much. Their marriage is steady on the surface but problematic at it's core. Peel back their facade of cuteness and there is an uncommunicated issue outletted through their sex life, which is totally out of sync.
Lou, completely unaware of his wife's inner turmoil is one of the most frustrating character's I've seen this year. There are so many times you want to shake him for being so blind to what's clearly infront of him. Margot is equally so, enticed by her desire for something new that she clearly does not understand that Daniel offers her nothing other than a few months of sexual self-exploration followed by the inevitable crash of normality. She's even told this multiple times by different characters as the movie goes on. As for Daniel, well he is probably the most unlikeable character I've seen in quite some time. Although not outwardly portrayed as a 'bad guy' he does absoloutely nothing to offset the damage he is going to cause. In fact... he basically stalks Margot. Waiting around corners and following her about. I almost laughed out loud when he showed up in one scene. It's also not hard to see through his facade of understanding and depth and by the time the film and Margot have reached that conclusion we've lost all patience and sympathy.
The film is about as sutble as film using 'Video Killed the Radio Star' as a key motif can be. That is, not at all. Polley repeatedly bashes her theme's into the audience's face without letting them develop naturally within the films narrative. Lou's sister, played by Sarah Silverman is a struggling alcoholic (on the rocky road to recovery) also looking to fill a void in her own destructive (perhaps less so, in the long run, than Margo's) in a rather contrived subplot. There are some really strange sequences here too; such as the moment were Daniel and Margot go swimming. It looks ridiculous, like the most shameless of Sigur Rós music videos. Polley's visual metaphors don't fare much better either, such as the way she frames nudity. During (another bizare) scene in the swimming pool shower, Silverman and William's discuss the idea of having somebody new. Their young, slim bodies are contrasted up against the older women in the shower. Not just their to showcase the balance of young and old, it is there to offer up an impression of the faded sex life between her a Lou.
The film itself is ugly as all hell, drenched in this vomit enducing sun-bleached yellow and enough screen glare and image filters to blind yah'. And the soundtrack, with a few notable exclusions (the Leonard Cohen title track and aforementioned 'Video Killed the Radio Star') is ripped from the hipster-soundtrack-neumatic.
If there is one redeeming quality here, it's Williams. She's already proved one of the most daring and qualified actress' of her generation with her roles in Blue Valentine, Meek's Cutoff and My Week with Marilyn. She's remarkable here, able to sell her character's dual nature with fragile charm. Rogen and Kirby just can't keep up with her, despite their best efforts. Although this is also due to Polley's script which never quite lacks the authenticity it needed. As well as some of her film making decisions; one point near the end she shoots Rogen's reactions with a series of jump cuts unfortunately highlighting the limitations of his performance.
I see people calling this film 'honest' simply because it manages to avoid the marritial dissatisfaction cliché. But just because a film doesn't resort to a dated template does not deem it worthy of such a praise. Yes, it deserves credit for not becoming a feminist power fantasy nor is Margot punished for making the choice she did, at least not beyond repair. During the last, unbroken shot of her on the fairground ride a smile forms on her face. She is slowly learning to deal with her decisions emotionally, suggest that she will be able to finally stop looking for what was missing in other people.
In the end though Take this Waltz's message is rather unelightening despite it's mature approach to the subject. The character's range from frustrating to flat out unlikeable and Polley really needs to lighten her heavy-handed approach before she can produce the film she really wants to. I say skip this dance or prepare to have your feet trodden.