Take This Waltz (2011)

Margot (Michelle Williams) is going to have a long, hot summer in Toronto wrestling between her good hearted but largely sexless marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen) and her desire for the obvious sexual charms of artist neighbour, Daniel (Luke Kirby) in Sarah Polley’s sophomore effort as director. Polley’s previous work was the poignant, painful, sensitive Alzheimer’s drama Away From Her which announced her as a filmmaker to watch and garnered Julie Christie a deserved Oscar nod. For her follow up Polley has stayed in her native Ontario, relocating to the hip, Portuguese Quarter in Toronto to fashion a heartfelt story about relationships and desire.

Toronto has (to EBFS’ knowledge) never looked better, Polley displays it’s charms as well as Woody Allen painted New York early in his career and with the same love Barry Levinson always shows for Baltimore. Lake Ontario, Centre Island, bistros, coffe shops, amusement arcades and winding streets are all presented positively either in golden sunshine, fresh morning light or hazy summer evening fades. Margot and Lou’s house is a case in point, rickety, red and yellow, olde worlde charm crammed with vintage furniture in every nook and cranny, it’s a romantic view of what a perfect couple’s house should be but no less desirable than the city itself as presented here. Speaking of realism, a special mention should go to the creativity displayed in the jobs assigned to the three leads. Margot writes copy (not a lot of it either) on tourist attractions, Lou is composing a cookbook on chicken and Daniel supports his irritating art habit (Just for himself, he says, as he shows Margot his work, haha) by pulling a rickshaw through the streets. Necessary conceits these may be as they allow everyone to pretty much do whatever they wish to ALL the time, they still push plausability to the limit.

Where Take This Waltz excels is in it’s script, it’s structure and it’s drama (inextricably linked, obviously). Polley has crafted the story so each scene feels utterly compelling and necessary as we find out what makes these characters tick, why Lou and Margot are married, why Margot may desire Daniel, what stops her giving in to her desire. All this without recourse to voiceover, flashbacks or overly emotive music, until the very end, more of which later. The script also keeps each character likeable enough to both keep us guessing or even wishing for the outcome of the decision Margot is eventually going to be forced to make, heavy lifting from the script indeed. The dialogue never feels forced and EBFS would be surprised if the rehearsals weren’t long and exhaustively worked on to build up the chemistry between Rogen, Williams and Kirby. The director is no slouch of an actress after all.

Michelle Williams has surely never been better than here. Perfectly cute, funny and lovable in “wife” mode for Lou, engaging in the kind of in-jokes, tomfoolery and comfort that a five year relationship brings, the sex, when it happens, is perfunctory but not unpleasant. Williams is confident enough to display enough sexuality to make Daniel’s desire for her seem to be more than just male testosterone fuelled humping and posturing. In short, she plays both The Madonna and The Whore in that, oh so difficult, grey area and plays it well. Rogen lends his usual good natured charm, ocassional mugging and annoying laugh to a tough role. Lou is in the dark for virtually the whole film and perhaps engenders the most sympathy here, his only fault being in not picking up the signals early enough. Luke Kirby plays Daniel carefully, his character being the easiest to slip into “being a bit of a shit” territory. His desire is palpable, his sexuality and confidence unquestioned. His bastard moments, such as offering a ride to Margot and ignorant Lou to their anniversary dinner, are believable since it appears love is his motive (maaayyyybbeeeee). Daniel’s standout moment is a monologue detailing, on request, exactly what he would do to Margot given the chance. The speech manages to be explicit, uncomfortable and definately erotic (EBFS ended up wanting him to do it to us a little bit) and serve as a counterpoint to the mundane sex presented in Lou and Margot’s relationship.

Take This Waltz is wonderful for one hour and forty minutes of it’s nearly two hour running time. We would willingly spend double that amount of time watching characters this well rounded involved in dramas this real in such funny, poignant, real (there’s that word again) situations. High praise indeed in a world where most films could shed a third of their running time and lose none of their dramatic weight. It’s also the first film in our memory to get away with using the term “gaylord” several times. However…..

Now on to the last 15 minutes (MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT); After several points pass by where an ending felt natural, Polley chooses to show the full results of Margot’s decision to go running after Daniel. In a (technically brilliant) wildly out of place, bravura, almost montage like sequence, we are “treated” to seeing Margot and Daniel fuck (no other way to describe it) their new relationship into the ground over an unspecified period of time. Not only is this patronising as we, the audience, did not need to be told that this would happen, we knew her passion was primarily lust based, it feels preachy, as if Polley herself feels that sex is epehmeral but love lasts forever. It also serves to unravel any sympathy we may have for Daniel and even Margot as their base feelings are exposed graphically from every angle. All the great, great work the previously brilliantly balanced script did in defining believable characters acting like in real life (perfection in this kind of film) unravels for the sake of a few pithy one liners from Lou, an attempt to have her cake AND eat it by Margot (something only bad guys get briefly in dramas) and an overtly obvious peice of moralising when Sarah Silverman’s off the wagon alcoholic gets to put Margot down. When the film finally draws to a close we find Margot happy, but on her own, as if her lesson has been learnt. Aaaaaarrrggghhh, it ends as a “growing as a person” film. The death knell for proper drama. If only Polley had ended her film on the beach and, as the old adage goes, left us wanting more…..

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