Directed by: Sarah Polley.
Written by: Sarah Polley.
Starring: Michelle Williams (Margot), Seth Rogen (Lou), Luke Kirby (Daniel), Sarah Silverman (Geraldine), Jennifer Podemski (Karen), Diane D'Aquila (Harriet), Vanessa Coelho (Tony), Graham Abbey (James).
The smartest decision writer-director Sarah Polley made when making her second film, Take This Waltz, was casting Michelle Williams in the lead role. Williams, who is quite possibly the best American actress of her generation, is able to suggest emotion raging inside of her, simply with the look on her face. If she never said a word in this movie, it wouldn’t matter, because Polley`s camera catches every subtle variation on that face, and tells us all we need to know about her. Take This Waltz is not without flaws, but none of them involve Williams, who delivers one of the best performances of the year.
Williams plays Margot, who first locks eyes with Daniel (Luke Kirby) at one of those old time villages in Nova Scotia. They meet again on the plan ride home, where they spend their flight home flirting. They decide to split a cab when they get back to Toronto – and discover that they actually live across the street from one another. After all this time flirting, it is when they get out of the cab when Margot finally blurts out I`m married. But the connection has already been made, and the movie will be all about their slow, steady, subtle courtship. They don’t fall into bed together right away – but the sexual connection between the two of them is strong and immediate.
We then meet Margot`s husband Lou (Seth Rogen). One of the things the movie gets precisely right is the way these two speak to each other. Every marriage has a language all their own – little games the couple plays with each when no one else is around. They have an easy, jokey relationship with each other. They are comfortable with each other – too comfortable. Although they are only in their late 20s, they have already been married for five years – and we get the sense that they may be high school or college sweethearts. Margot is happy in this life – but what she is missing – perhaps what she`s always been missing – is that sexual heat that exists between her and Daniel. It just isn’t there with Lou, despite how content they are – or at least thought they were.
The movie does have some significant flaws. For one thing, too much of Polley`s dialogue is too on the nose, and at times even awkward – from Margot complaining about how she fears connections – being stuck in between things – to a late scene where Sarah Silverman, as Rogen`s sister, spells out the message of the movie far too clearly, and at times, the dialogue is awkward and clumsy. There is a great scene in a woman`s shower, where the young, naked bodies of Williams, Silverman and their friend, are contrasted against the older women who they just went to aquafit together. The message here is clear – that new things which eventually become old – all things physical are only temporary. And then Polley has one of the older women say this pretty much exactly, which is completely unnecessary, since the point has already been made so much more effectively visually. The good news is, for the most part, the cast sells the dialogue, because the actors are so skilled. No matter what Williams or Rogen are saying, you believe it, because these two actors are so natural, and such perfect fits for their roles. Luke Kirby is less effective as Daniel – he has the right look about him, and the sexual connection between him and Williams is palpable. There is also an appropriate level of creepiness about him – something you cannot quite put your finger on, but makes you question him a little. There is a fine line between infatuation and stalking. But Kirby is less effective at handling his awkward dialogue – he doesn’t sell it as well as Williams or Rogen do. The same can be said of Silverman, who is wonderful in her few short scenes, right up until her final one, when she is apparently drunk, which doesn’t quite work.
Yet so much of the movie is so good, that I was willing to overlook these flaws. Visually, Take This Waltz is a step forward from Polley`s first film Away From Her (which has a simple perfection to it, and was a legitimately great film, where Take This Waltz is merely a good one). Polley has grown more confident behind the camera, and the movie is often at its best when it simply focuses on the faces of the actors – particularly Williams, and at times Rogen, where so much is happening with nothing be said. And there is a great montage near the end of the film, set to Leonard Cohen`s song Take This Waltz, which in a few short, wordless minutes highlights everything that was missing between Margot and Lou – and everything that is missing between Margot and Daniel. And the final scene of the film has a simple, subtle perfection to it. Polley could have made a cleaner film had she cut it off about 90 minutes in. But without the last half hour, Take This Waltz would have been something like Brief Encounter for 2012, and that isn’t what Polley is up to here. What Take This Waltz is about is how every relationship is imperfect, so you have to choose what you really want in a relationship. You cannot have it all.