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Common terms associated with movies about infidelity would be "lust,"
"passion" and "betrayal," yet all those things are suspiciously absent
from Sarah Polley's infidelity drama, "Take This Waltz." Her film is
about as anti-soap opera as you can get careful to avoid melodrama
and dedicated to sidestepping any and all conventional depictions of
adult relationships in film.
It seems odd to call Polley bold for showing it like it is, the way that she drags us through the head of her main character, Margot (Michelle Williams), who so undeniably loves her husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), yet cannot deny her feelings for Daniel (Luke Kirby), a man she meets while away for work who turns out to be her neighbor. However, when it comes to filmmaking, anything that deviates from Hollywood reality can make an audience uncomfortable, so it takes some guts to ignore that filmmaking impulse.
Consequently, a good chunk of viewers will be turned off or frustrated by "Take This Waltz," losing patience with the inaction of its characters and pulling their hair out over the tension oozing out of the most casual character interactions. Yes, "Take This Waltz" can be so uneventful that it verges on pointless, but in time Polley's intentions become very clear.
As Margot and Daniel get closer, they don't really get closer, and as Margot and Lou drift apart, they actually come off as in love as they've ever been. For much of the film, it's in Margot's head that the cheating is actually happening. Her thoughts and actions are not in sync and it becomes extremely difficult for us to find empathy for her because we feel as though she needs to act on her feelings, to either voice her displeasure to Lou or throw herself at Daniel. That's the Hollywood impulse calling.
Polley continues to resist, and as challenging as it becomes to watch at times, her film comes out better for sticking to its convictions. As she clearly intended, a switch flips in a scene in which Margot and Daniel ride an indoor Scrambler as "Video Killed the Radio Star" plays, an in the loopy chaos of the scene, we (and Margot) find a certain clarity in understanding what's going on between the main characters.
There's a definite phantasmagoria to Polley's style as well that while visually engaging contrasts a bit with what's otherwise such a nuanced, completely believable film. Several scenes play out like dream sequences, but we later can confirm they actually happened. She seems quite content to toy with our expectations and challenge what we think we know to be true about how love works.
You couldn't cast a better actress than Williams with a performance that's so hard to pull off. We only identify with Margot because we see her humanity, but it's tough to understand her and in some cases even like as a third-party observer of her story. Williams should be lauded for volunteering for this experiment and selling it as well as she does, especially when you consider that Kirby is a total unknown and Rogen is a poster child for modern comedy, for formulaic comedies that are such a far cry from "Take This Waltz."
The end of the movie is bound to bother a lot of people, while others will be intrigued at the choice and make peace with what Polley has to say because she frankly makes a good argument. Fidelity gets such a black-and-white portrayal in film and television, though maybe that's a societal thing because of its prominence in religious code. Nevertheless, she utilizes every tool at her disposal to present the gray area that we so quickly jump to deny and shudder to embrace.
It's tough to really enjoy a film that doesn't emotionally click, in which we don't feel with our hearts that things should've turned out how they did, but Polley has such a beautiful directorial style and conveys her intentions so clearly that "Take This Waltz" warrants a certain degree of respect for its bold yet so honest and impressively perceptive take on love.
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This movie was hauntingly real--subtle in its slow approach to the climax and it stays with you long after you have left the theater. All of the actors are wonderful and capturing the nuances of their characters. Sarah Polley does it again. The story, set in Toronto, captures the everyday life of Margot and Lou--and depicts their special relationship through the details of their special ways of communicating. It is not until the complexities of Margot's struggle between her love for Lou and her unyielding attraction to her neighbour, that you start to feel her personal struggle. The inevitable ending does not disappoint. Highly recommended.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Take This Waltz Written and Directed by Sarah Polley Staring: Michelle
Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby and Sarah Silverman
Reviewed by: Mitchell Rhodes
Take This Waltz debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011, and I've been waiting to see it ever since. Finally, it's been released in Canada, and I saw it Friday, June 29 at the AMC Forum in Montreal.
In my opinion, Polley's breakthrough as an actor came in the Adam Egoyan film, The Sweet Hereafter (1997). Her directorial feature film debut, Away from Her (2006) received critical acclaim and many awards. I saw a screening of that film at the Vancouver International Film Festival with Polley inconspicuously standing at the back of theatre, presumably gauging the audience's reaction. She humbly accepted my congratulations at her effort and I've been a fan ever since.
Polley's sophomore directorial offering feels more like a first film because it plays as if it's deeply personal. She also brings Toronto to life with bright-saturated colours and beautiful street and beachfront settings.
The expressed theme of the film is exploring the gapthat potentially terrifying space between things, places, or more importantly commitment and relationships. This theme arises again and again throughout the film.
Whether it's between Geraldine's (Silverman) sobriety and drunkenness or Margot's (Williams) neurotic fear of changing planes between two connecting flights (requiring wheelchair assistance even though she's not disabled) or the anxious and confusing space that exists between the love of a husband, Lou (Rogen), and the love of a new potential romantic and erotic partner, Daniel (Kirby), we are always in the gapnever firmly on one side or the other.
Spoiler Alert #1
If I have one complaint about the film it's the shallow aspect of Lou, Margot's husband. Lou's devotion to chicken recipes (he's writing a cookbook) and his cutsy-wootsy routine both romantically and in the bedroom makes it all to easy to predict and then justify Margot's decision to leave him even though she remained sexually faithful up to that point.
Good writing/directing takes characters to the "end of their rope" and I'm not convinced that Polley takes Margot or Lou to such places. Perhaps it's Polley's real life divorce in 2008 that blocked her from doing so; letting this film play the way it felt for her rather than doing what best suited the characters in their circumstance. Polley vehemently denies any connection between this film and her real life and so we'll not stoop to speculative gossip here.
At a deeper philosophical level the film represents the pervasive human condition of union and separation expressed in the context of loveOneness versus duality. Is love something you 'fall into,' if you are lucky, or does it take knowledge and effort? Is love simple, it's finding the right object (person) that's difficult? Or is love about facultyan ability and capacity to love oneself and thus others as well?
As Margot is "falling in" love with Daniel, the object her love, a pivotal scene takes place on a Scrambler ride to the tune of Video Killed the Radio Star. The slow motion, the lights, the music, and the audience's point of view on the characters all create the impression of closing the gap. Then the ride abruptly ends. The music stops, the lights go up and in the faces of Margot and Daniel we see terrora gap even bigger than before.
(Spoiler alert #2)
The film begins and ends with the same scene. It's with Daniel. Until this point, and without our knowing it, the entire film is a flash back. The audience has been in the gap with Margot along. And yet there is more. In the film's final scene we see Margot again on the Scrambler this time she rides alone.
Is this scene is based in reality or is it Margot's fantasy or a daydream? Ultimately, that's not important. What's important is whether Margot has found the capacity to love herself and others. Or, is she back to where she began, where we beganin the gap? It's ambiguous and left for you to decide.
I watched this film at it's premiere last night and found it quite
entertaining and insightful. This was a film about the path that
Margot's (Michelle Williams) emotions take as she struggles with the
question of fulfilling the parts of her marriage that are missing
through infidelity. Michelle gives a very inspiring performance as her
character progresses....completely letting the audience in on every
facet of her internal struggle and the toll it takes on her. There are
times when you empathize and root for her, and times when you shake
your head and wonder why she can't see what the audience sees.
Seth Rogen is surprisingly effective in his role as the geeky, but loving husband. I found myself constantly rooting for him. He did a great job of making his character imperfect but likable, but most importantly, believable.
Sarah Silverman delivered nicely in her role, especially near the end of the film. If there was a weak link, it was Luke Kirby, who never seemed to show much emotion at all, in a role where there was such potential for it.
Sarah Polley's writing and directing was excellent, although the pacing was at times a bit erratic. She managed to really capture what life is really like at times, without going over the top. By celebrating the little joys in life, she garnered sympathy for the main characters and the situations that developed, without forcing it. She also showed Toronto off very nicely, which was a bonus.
In all, if you're into character driven films, this is a very good one. The best part of it all, though, is Michelle Williams performance.
Sarah Polley proves her impressive directorial and screen writing
debut, 2006's "Away from Her" starring a luminous, Oscar-nominated
Julie Christie as an Alzheimer's patient, was no fluke with this
incisive look at a most inchoate love triangle. With a title taken from
Leonard Cohen's cultish song, this clear-eyed yet melancholic 2012
drama once again showcases Polley's prodigious acumen in capturing the
complexity of adult relationships without casting blame or judgment on
the parties involved. The focal point of the triangle is 28-year-old
Margot, an aspiring writer from Toronto on an assignment in Nova Scotia
to write the copy for a travel brochure on historic Louisbourg. There
she meets Daniel, also from Toronto where he is a struggling artist and
a rickshaw driver. An attraction is almost immediate but not
consummated. When they fly home on the same plane, Margot discovers he
lives just across the street from her, which complicates matters since
she's been married for five years to Lou, a cookbook author
specializing in chicken dishes. Their marriage is comfortable, and
their interactions reflect a lived-in familiarity marked by cute
practical jokes and quirky riffs of humor.
But what Margot sees in Daniel is something that's been missing in her life, a sexual spark that excites her, even though she dares not act upon it since she really does love Lou in spite of his foibles - including a certain apathy about their relationship that he thinks is perfectly normal. She could see spending the rest of her life with Lou, but she wonders if he is her soul-mate or whether it's worth the risk to find out if Daniel is really the one. Blinded by desires she had yet to tap in her marriage, Margot knows if she acts upon those feelings, there will come some point where she'll have to make a hard decision between Lou and Daniel. Michelle Williams captures Margot's inner conflict with palpable empathy as you see her character expose her thoughts in moments of quiet in which she is the harshest judge of her actions. It's a shining performance which compares favorably to her evocative Marilyn Monroe in "My Week with Marilyn". There is a deliberate vagueness to the two men. As Daniel, Luke Kirby ("Mambo Italiano") manages to convey the lure of "the other man" without coming across as despicable even though it's clear he wants her from afar. At the same time, it's clear that Margot and Daniel have little in common, and they make you wonder how sustainable their relationship could be.
Seth Rogen does something surprising in this film he acts. He still doesn't stray that far away from his shaggy-dog comic persona, but he realistically shows how Lou's contentment and impassivity bring Margot both lasting security and unresolvable fear and longing. Similarly, Sarah Silverman makes her few scenes count as Lou's plainspoken sister Geraldine, who is married with two kids and an alcoholic just out of rehab, especially when she tells Margot what she thinks of her ultimate decision. That Polley can coax such fine dramatic work from Rogen and Silverman is a credit to her growing confidence as a filmmaker. As a native Canadian, she also presents Toronto as a setting with its own unique identity (versus other directors who use it as a double for New York or Chicago), and her cinematographer Luc Montpellier brings a lushness to the images that adds to the intoxication Margot is feeling. There are still flaws the ramshackle pace adds to an already lengthy 116-minute running time, and the climactic time-lapse montage feels out- of-place for a film that had tread so lightly before. Regardless, this film should play on a double bill with David Lean's "Brief Encounter" to show how mores have evolved about infidelity over seventy years. Whatever the outcome may be, the bottom line is that there are no easy answers.
Greetings again from the darkness. We have watched Sarah Polley grow up
on screen. She began as a 6 year old child actress and evolved into an
indie film favorite. Now, she is finding her true voice as a film
director ... and what a unique voice it is. In Away from Her (2009),
she told the heartbreaking story of a husband's struggle with losing
his beloved wife to Alzheimer's Disease. Now we get the story of
Margot, who just can't seem to find happiness or fulfillment within the
stability of marriage.
Margot is played exceedingly well by Michelle Williams. I would say that without the casting of Ms. Williams, this film would probably not have worked. There is something about her that prevents us from turning on her character when she veers from her loyal, if a bit lacking in passion, husband Lou (played by Seth Rogen). Williams and Rogen have the little things that a marriage needs ... a language until itself and the comfort of consistency. What Margot misses is the magic. She thinks she finds that in her neighbor Daniel, a rickshaw driver played by Luke Kirby. Daniel is the kind of guy that every guy inherently knows not to trust, yet women somehow fall for. He is a subtle and slow seducer. The kind that make it seem like everything is innocent ... right up until it isn't.
Margot has that most annoying of spousal traits: she expects everyday to be Disneyland. The best scene in the movie occurs when Lou's sister (a terrific Sarah Silverman) confronts Margot and tells her that life has a gap and that you will go crazy trying to fill it. It's a wonderfully insightful line from writer/director Polley. Of course, we understand that this is Margot's nature and she learns that sometimes broken things can't be fixed.
Another great scene occurs in the women's locker room after water aerobics. There is a juxtaposition between generations of older women and younger ones. We see the differences not only in physical bodies, but in the wisdom that comes with age. More brilliance from the script. The one scene that I thought crossed the line was the "martini" scene. I found it tasteless, vulgar and far more extreme than what was called for at the time. But that's a small complaint for an otherwise stellar script.
As terrific as Ms. Williams and Ms. Silverman are, I found Seth Rogen to be miscast and quite unbelievable as a focused cookbook writing guy who has pretty simple, yet quietly deep thoughts about how a marriage should work. Again, this didn't ruin the film for me, but I did find him distracting and quite an odd choice.
It's filmmakers like Sarah Polley that keep the movie business evolving. Her viewpoint and thoughts are unique and inspirational, and should lead to a long career as a meaningful writer/director. Oh, and the use of Leonard Cohen's "Take this Waltz" song fit right in over the credits.
What is new and exotic today will eventually, albeit incrementally,
morph into routine. Superficially, this applies to the latest products
such as vehicles and electronics, but dig a little deeper, and it
concerns people. Every now and then, you will meet a person you just
connect with. Your wits match, you laugh at the same things, they are
outrageously attractive, and you abhor the thought of saying goodbye at
the end of the day and going your separate ways. What compounds this
situation and serves as the basis for an outstanding film is, perhaps
one of the two people who are magnetically drawn together is already
Margot (Michelle Williams) is one of those freelance writers who frequently says she wants to be a writer, but she has not started yet. In the meantime, she travels to Nova Scotia to write an update to the official pamphlet for a colonial era village. While there, she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) who has coincidentally journeyed to the island to sketch and paint. Why the coincidence? They happen to live across the street from one another back in Ontario. Immediately straining credibility limits, Take This Waltz begins on thin ice but very quickly settles down into an entirely engrossing and mesmerizing feature.
Margot and Daniel verbally spar with one another but keep finding ways to bump into one another around town. All of this would be much easier on everyone's guilty feelings if Michelle's husband, Lou (Seth Rogan), was never around or ignored his wife, or was just unpleasant in some overt way. However, Lou is a genuinely nice guy who loves his wife and their situation together. Michelle and Lou have been married for five years, live in a quaint house, and play funny games when the alarm goes off in the morning about who loves the other one more. Lou cooks most of the day because he writing a cookbook all about chicken; this sounds contrived but it works because the audience has never seen it before. Lou's sister, Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), also pops on screen every now and again as Michelle's friend and to carry a small sub-plot as a recovering alcoholic.
Sarah Polley's previous film, the wonderful Away From Her (2006), was about a very hard subject, the onset of Alzheimer's disease in one partner and their institutionalization. At first, the audience assumes Take This Waltz is a break from such weighty subjects and will be a much lighter affair, maybe even a romantic comedy. Oh, but don't be fooled. This film is just as dramatic and heavy. Michelle Williams spends an unusual amount of time in tears. She truly loves her husband and is happy with their lot in life. She cannot conceive of deliberately hurting him. But Daniel just may be her soul mate, if there is such a thing. Their conversations together are profound and meaningful. Every member of the audience will walk out of the theater talking about the scene between Margot and Daniel while they are having martinis. Sarah Polley wrote a very strong screenplay and the dialogue creates scenes of immense magnitude and feeling even though there are just two people chatting over a small table.
This is also a strong cast for what is obviously a very low budget independent film. It is good to know talent still gravitates towards quality. Michelle Williams, Seth Rogan, and Sarah Silverman are some very noticeable names when they appear on a movie poster and stand out even more when they are attached to such a small film effort. As for Williams, this was a much better showcase for her talent than last year's My Week with Marilyn, even though she was nominated for an Academy Award for that. In fact, her performance here blows that one out of the water.
Do yourself a favor and seek out this film. It will most likely be hard to find, but it contains some of the strongest acting, creative writing, and enjoyable filmmaking of the year so far. If not for the clunky meeting in the beginning and an overly long and choppy coda at the end, Take This Waltz was almost perfect. Bravo Sarah Polley.
This film shouldn't work nearly as well as it does. Take This Waltz
centres around a two-suitors plot that was tired a century ago, takes
place in a hipster-utopia version of Toronto, has multiple comedic
actors who've worn out their welcome doing Serious Roles, and its
characters are either selfish or dull. But Take This Waltz also has a
kind of magic that can wash over the most jaded cinema viewer and make
you forget that you've seen it all before.
Maybe it's Sarah Polley's direction, or maybe it's the brilliant performance of Michelle Williams that makes her character likable against all odds. Maybe the thematic statement about the perils of looking for adventure and the need for constant romance is something that we need affirmed more often against the tide of romcoms and gooey melodramas. Maybe it's just that I really want to live in hipster- utopia-Toronto. But this film stuck with me for days afterwards, its scenes playing over and over in my mind, blotting out all the rest of the disposable entertainment. There are so many indelible images here: a public shower scene which plays pranks on the male gaze, that goofy but somehow powerful 360-degree-rotation montage, and of course the final scene, a coda that grants its central character and us along with her a moment of unmediated joy. And it's that joy that the film understands as being something we maybe have to pursue no matter what its cost. Michelle Williams' abashed smile gives us a taste of that adventure, and like the rest of the movie, it's damn hard to resist.
One of my favorite things about this charming indie drama was that I really enjoyed was just how real the relationships in the film came across. Writer/director Sarah Polley creates a freshness and realness to this story of a happy young married couple Margo (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) whose happy life is challenged when Margo meets and falls for neighbor and artist, Daniel (Luke Kirby). Margo thought she had what she wanted but, the free spirited Luke makes here question whether she is really happy with Lou or just thinks she's happy. As Lou becomes focused on writing a cookbook, Margo begins to explore what she really wants... or is it. And that's the thing that I felt was so real about this charming little movie. Margo's answers are never clear as in life they sometimes aren't. Are were really happy or just convincing ourselves to settle for what we have? Is it human nature to always think there is something better for us out there and thus were never are truly content or happy? These are true life questions and questions we ask ourselves as we watch Margo pursue a course which could cost her everything. And, of course there is the age old question, of the grass always appearing greener. I really enjoyed how director Polley gave the film a very refreshing style and really made the characters seem like real people. They all have their little quirks and habits and they make decisions based on emotions and are sometimes selfish and not careful about hurting those around them. And, they don't always know what they really want. The performances are strong across the board with Michelle Williams giving another great characterization of the almost childlike Margo, whose very likable despite her selfish pursuits. Seth Rogen surprises as Lou a man who obviously loves Margo but, has his own goals and is a little too focused on such to notice his wife is troubled. Luke Kirby is good as the artist Daniel who, much like Margo, decides to selfishly pursue their attraction despite knowing she is married. Round out the cast as Lou's sarcastic alcoholic sister, Geraldine is a perfectly cast Sarah Silverman. All in all this is a refreshingly un-Hollywood indie that takes a look at real people with real emotions making real and sometimes selfish and stupid decisions. Something we are all guilty of and that's why we can identify with these people and how love or, what we think is love, can be such a confusing factor in our lives. And, most of all, is there such a thing as true happiness or is it an illusion we create ourselves?
On my first viewing of Take This Waltz, after the film was over, I said in confidence and self assuredness to the people I went to see the film with, that I did not like it. However a strange thing happened. I saw the film and was unable to write my review of it until now and in that delay of time I started thinking of the film more and more and it seemed to resonate and stay with me and there were certain scenes and just whole issues, or ideals that were brought up during the film that I gave second thought to and reconsidered. Having written my review of Take This Waltz, immediately after watching it, I would have probably have given it a rating of 6 out of 10, but as I have thought and pondered over the characters and meaning of the film and just how it makes more sense to me now and in a sense has also grown on me, I now give the film my definitive rating of 8 out of 10. On first viewing there were some things I really liked about the film such as the interesting yet hauntingly beautiful colour contrast to the homes, interiors of the homes and even what the characters wore. It gave the film a distinct look and I admired it for that. I also appreciated that we could have a serious film about people in their 20's with no use whatsoever of cell phones, the internet, or any type of social media devices. It just felt more real having not used those things and avoided being too commercial as well. The one thing that I think really got me about the first viewing of the film was how I really did not like the main character Margot, played by Michelle Williams. I found it very irritating and awkward to the point of being irritating. She didn't seem to know how to act, or behave in certain situations and when she did speak, or try to live her dreams of fantasies it all just felt and looked terribly awkward and clumsy. Take for example her baby talk with her husband, Lou. It seemed so childish and really grated on my nerves. Also the fact that she was so indecisive about everything as well. Also on first viewing I felt that perhaps not all of the characters were as developed as they could have been and overall at the end of the film I think I got what director/writer Sarah Polley was trying to say, but at that point I was not interested anymore and I did not care either. Having thought about the film for a few days I came to realize that Michelle Williams' character Margot, is not as annoying, or irritating as she once seemed and even if she is a little bit, I could now understand why. I think the point was to show a character such as Margot, who is really indecisive about life and the choices that she makes and also shows how insecure and unhappy she is. I think Margot, was really stuck in a situation that became routine and comfortable for her, but she is a restless character always wondering if there is something new and better for her elsewhere. I think Margot's awkwardness as well as nervousness shows because of how insecure and uncomfortable with life and making decisions is hard for her. She wants to do what is right, but not destroy everything she has at the same time. It also lead me to think that I have known women like Margot, and they behaved in a similar such manner as she does in the film and for the exact same reasons that I mentioned above. It is not necessarily a character flaw, but perhaps just a weakness and a stumbling block that one needs to work on. The other characters later on seemed more well developed than on first glance and the film certainly does give a lot of food for thought. I literally spent days afterwards thinking about this film and some of the powerful and heartbreaking images in it. The film is a fairly depressing watch in a lot of ways, but I could respect that about the film because any film dealing with such subject matter, should be serious and take their character's feelings and emotions to heart and all that is here. The film does still have some flaws with it's pacing and there are times where it gets swept up in it's melancholy and it can tend to drag a little bit, but there is still enough rewarding things on display here to be worth a watch, even if you have to think about the film a couple days after you watch it, or even have repeat viewings. Brave viewers should give the film a chance and think about what it says about loneliness, relationships and the myths we sometimes promise ourselves, but ultimately lie to each other and ourselves about. An intelligent and deeply thought out film worthy of an 8 out of 10 rating and not just a 6.
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