Take This Waltz Review: A film that isn’t about dancing or Christoph Waltz. Or even a dancing Christoph Waltz.
Sarah Polley created a whole bunch of hype around herself in 2006 when she directed and wrote Away From Her. Polley’s work earned her a nod from The Academy for Best Adapted Screenplay, and it seemed as though she was thrust into the ranks of that rarest of beasts: a female writer/director who gets the recognition she deserves.
Therefore, it should be with great pleasure that I bring you this review for the DVD/Blu-Ray release of her latest effort, the long-time-coming Take This Waltz. In a sense, I do feel that pleasure, however there is a nagging feeling that I just can’t shake about Sarah Polley’s latest offering. Shall we begin?
The plot is fairly standard, with only the interesting choice of talent elevating it from dull. Margot (Michelle Williams) is a married woman taking a plane back home from her latest writing job. She is happy in her marriage. During the various stages of her journey home, she encounters Daniel: a mysterious chap with a penchant for seeing through Margot’s B.S. In a massive coincidental sweep, it turns out that Daniel has just moved in across the street from Margot and her inoffensive husband Lou (Seth Rogen). As you might expect, the connection between Margot and Lou leads to a tenuous “will-they-won’t-they?” strand that genuinely keeps you guessing. So far, so standard…
As I alluded to earlier, it is the performances that keep this interesting, albeit not always for the right reasons. Michelle Williams, as usual, is engaging throughout. She anchors a timid character with a strong turn, allowing us to suspend our disbelief in this instant attraction for a complete stranger that is so intense that it threatens a happy marriage. Counterbalancing Williams is Seth Rogen, who gives good nice guy as her oblivious other half. They both have their failings, but Lou is such a sweet character that it is difficult to buy the adulterous affair. Granted, the film goes some way to rectifying this with a quietly devastating finale, in which Sarah Silverman (as Lou’s sister) of all people talks a hell of a lot of sense.
Along with the stability of Lou and Margot’s marriage, Luke Kirby’s home-wrecking Daniel somehow manages to decrease the believability of the attraction between himself and Margot. Kirby has a good face for the role – he does earnest very well, but cannot keep himself from coming off as a little smug. Daniel just doesn’t seem to truly harbour the pain of separation, and some of the almost-moments between he and Margot fall a little flat. Kirby doesn’t bring enough raw sexuality to the table when replying to Margot’s sexually suggestive question of “What would you do to me?”, making Michelle Williams’s squirming, shy reaction all the more impressive for the little she has to work with.
Generally, the characters are somewhat oddly written, which in fairness doesn’t make it easy for the acting talent to work. Margot works because of her situation and Lou is likable; throw Daniel into the mix, however, and everything seems off. Margot and Lou have a lot of quirky relationship moments that manage to elude the kooky clichés that have become so trendy over the last few years, and it reinforces the love between the pair. I never felt like Daniel was doing enough to pull Margot away from her marriage. Seth Rogen seems as though he is punching above his weight at times, but his gentle approach to the material offers some genuinely impressive moments. There are a few shaky segments when Rogen doesn’t quite nail it, most notably a quick-cut sequence of reactions to the news of Margot’s potential infidelity. However his effort and realness allow for a level of forgiveness, and his development as an actor does seem to be picking up pace. It will be very interesting to see where he goes from here.
The final act is somewhat jarring. Margot makes her decision, and seemingly morphs into a different kind of character altogether. Whether or not it is the result of making a decision and feeling more content for it is unclear, but it is a shift that seems to go drastically against what has come before. The unevenly matched tug-of-war for Margot’s heart goes on for far too long, and by the time Silverman’s damning ramble dashes in to save the errant story, it is too little too late to salvage the narrative entirely. Thinking back, the ending does make more sense of the story, but it doesn’t take away from it feeling uneven.
In terms of Polley’s work, the direction is very strong. Perspective is key in giving the film any kind of meaning, and the way in which she toys with it is effective and very impressive. Daniel’s faux-stalking of Margot in the night lacks the heightened sexual awareness that it needs, but the camerawork and general direction compensates for it significantly. Even though I have criticised several strands of the story, Polley is at least intent on her vision, which certainly provokes thought concerning marriage, attraction and the acceptance of happiness.
In spite of its failings, I found Take This Waltz to be very watchable, and interesting enough to keep me entertained throughout. It is warm at times, as well as laugh-out-loud funny in places. The tumultuous aftermath of Margot’s confession to Lou is extremely affecting, as is a lot of the drama generally. For all its flaws, this move raises some valid points about human nature, as well as overcoming narrative stumbles to create some characters who seem genuine enough to care about. A more solid story and a much more smouldering Daniel would have gone a long way to making this an excellent film, but as it stands, Take This Waltz is, in more ways than one, a study of what could have been.
What do you think? Leave a comment.