Ashvegas movie review: Michelle Williams enough reason to ‘Take This Waltz’


Further proof that white people can’t dance.
(Magnolia Pictures)

Review by The Isolated Moviegoer:

Away From Her, Sarah Polley’s 2007 directorial debut, felt like her fifth or sixth film.  Full of the depth and confidence typically seen from veteran craftsmen, the story of a husband coping with his wife’s descent into Alzheimer’s established the actress as a surprise name to watch in the filmmaking community.  Five years later, she returns behind the camera for Take This Waltz, a film that finds her returning to Earth a bit.  Working from her own script this time and featuring characters in her general age bracket, the work exhibits the flaws, ambition, and awkwardness of a first effort.

How to catch a predator:
Toronto edition.
(Magnolia Pictures)

At least the ambition is there.  By tackling the tricky subject of infidelity, Polley aims high, setting herself up for significant risks and rewards.  Caught in the central conundrum is Toronto freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams), who meets and strikes up a flirty friendship with Daniel (Luke Kirby) while on assignment in Nova Scotia.  After sharing a cab home from the airport, she admits that she’s married, to which he says, “Too bad,” and walks to his house, tragically across the street from hers.

Back at home, Margot resumes life with Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook author currently on a chicken kick.  The two appear happy and their bizarre cutesy behavior suggests years of familiarity.  These shared idiosyncrasies range from cartoonish voices to a running game of violent things they’d do to one another and are painful in their immaturity.  Granted, each marriage has its own tics, and focusing on these annoying details is a bold move by Polley.  Such a portrayal is indicative of the overall film’s unflinching honesty, but isn’t particularly fun to watch.

Please keep your hands inside
the marriage at all times.
(Magnolia Pictures)

Beneath this gleeful veneer is a young couple generally failing to connect as adults.  Lou seems confident in his life and is loving toward Margot, but the playground antics, which feel completely his doing, unintentionally stunt her development as a functioning adult.  As such, when Margot surfaces in the real world, she’s only partially there.  Suddenly without the twee safety net, she’s unable to express what she wants and her romantic timing (epitomized by an ill-fated attempt to seduce Lou while he’s cooking) is horrendous.  She’s essentially a child with deep, suppressed emotional issues, and without a clear sense of her longings, her subsequent adulterous leanings are sympathy-proof.

The repellant nature of her other fella also doesn’t help.  In a film about infidelity, the forbidden fruit must be appealing and in some way (hopefully many ways) a better fit for the tempted.  Daniel, however, possesses no such charm and Kirby’s portrayal lends him a consistent air of greasy pretension.  His moon-faced pining for Margot gets annoying quick, plus there’s an underlying sense that he’s intentionally preying on an emotionally fragile woman.  What’s worse is that he in no way fills Margot’s voids and the lack of true compatibility makes each encounter a frustrating endeavor.

To beer, or not to beer.
(Magnolia Pictures)

Still, a story doesn’t have to be pleasant to be genuine, and in its raw depiction of the consequences of infidelity, Take This Waltz succeeds.  Leading the way is Williams, who deftly plays Margot as a lost young woman in search of something, whatever that something may be.  As Lou’s alcoholic sister Geraldine, Sarah Silverman makes the most of her limited scenes and Rogen likewise shows impressive depth in a rare dramatic turn.  Further anchoring the film are a pair of montages, including an exceptional, twirling cinematography sequence set to the titular Leonard Cohen tune.  Such flourishes indicate a filmmaker with talent to spare, and though Polley’s direction this go-round shows the occasional growing pain, her sophomore effort’s eventual path is pretty impressive.

Grade: B-

Rated R for language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity.

Take This Waltz opens at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd. on Friday, August 10.

For more film reviews, visit The Isolated Moviegoer.