Sunday, July 8, 2012

Movie Review: Take This Waltz

Luke Kirby and Michelle Williams
Take This Waltz (2011)
Written & Directed by: Sarah Polley
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby

"Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it."

Back in 2006 Sarah Polley made a name for herself as a promising young writer and director on the indie film scene. With her directorial debut, Away from Her, Polley garnered the kind of attention few young artists even dream of -- the end result being an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Now, with Take this Waltz, Polley delves even deeper into the nature of relationships in all their complex highs and lows. 

Freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is a (mostly) happily married wife to cookbook author, Lou (Seth Rogen). Despite the occasional spat, the couple appear content in their relationship -- that is until Margot meets her handsome artist neighbour, Daniel (Luke Kirby). Margot starts to feel more alive than she has in years, sneaking out to meet up with Daniel for late-night swims, afternoon drinks or just everyday trips around Toronto. Their gradually evolving attraction to one another -- and Margot's ever-present guilt at the thought of cheating on her husband -- is at the centre of Polley's thought-provoking sophomore release.

Films rarely allow audiences to glimpse the most intimate moments of a relationship and Polley is a master at building characterization through even the smallest suggestions. Margot and Lou speak in their own language and create dozens of inside jokes -- small, everyday moments that help solidify the foundation of a relationship. Polley takes risks, creating flawed characters that often border on unlikeable. Her willingness to portray very human decisions -- even the selfish ones -- speaks volumes about her ability to see every aspect of a personality.

As one character observes in the film, "new things become old." It's a part of human nature to desire something new and exciting. We often shy away from routine. Or, like Margot, we fear the "in between" and not knowing if something better will come along. However, Margot's inability to recognize the truth in that simple statement, and to not be so afraid of it, is what ultimately leads to her unravelling.
With regards to the performances, no one in her generation plays complex and conflicted women better than Williams. Whether you find Margot a sympathetic figure or not is irrelevant -- Williams portrays her as both a world-weary adult and free-spirit who just wants to openly embrace the excitement of new love. She gives a lovely, honest performance that perfectly compliments Polley's vision.

As Lou, Rogen veers away from his usual comedic roles and gives a surprisingly touching performance as a man slowly coming to terms with the fact that his marriage is deteriorating. At first glance, Rogen and Williams may appear to be an unlikely couple, but they generate chemistry through the small, intimate flourishes they add to their characters' relationship. And, finally, as Daniel, Kirby gives off a soulful, hopeless romantic vibe -- a nice guy who has been burned in the past when it comes to love.

While Take this Waltz focuses on the finer details of everyday life, creating an intimate portrait of love gained and lost, its only major stumble is in its overlong running time and multiple false endings.

But, for those looking for a reprieve from all the summer blockbusters, Take this Waltz is a quiet indie that will keep you thinking.