‘Take This Waltz’ Review
Edward G. Robinson played gangsters, John Wayne played cowboys, Michelle Williams plays emotionally peripatetic women who break up with their husbands.
It's impossible not to do a compare and contrast between 'Take This Waltz' and 'Blue Valentine.' They elicit very similar emotions in the viewer and cover much of the same ground. Every spousal separation is unique, however, so rest assured the “getting there” is different enough to merit this new film which, while I can safely say I didn't enjoy, I recognize has some strong components.
We open with a ridiculous lack of subtlety at a restoration village. A man is being publicly flogged for the crime of adultery. Williams' Margot, a freelance writer observing so she can tweak the copy of the park's pamphlet, exchanges some barbs with a odd park-goer Daniel, played by Luke Kirby. Later, at the airport, the two discover they have adjoining seats! Later still they discover they live on the same city block!!
Yeah, a little forced, but you'll probably let it slide because you'll be so fascinated with Michelle Williams' performance. She has a sunny quality that shines through despite a defensive need to spike her own attractiveness with obnoxious barbs, babytalk or sudden, needy emotional power games. She returns home to her husband, Seth Rogen, who is nothing but the good guy. Kind, thoughtful and always in the kitchen cooking up a new recipe (he's working on a book about chicken.)
The bulk of 'Take This Waltz' shows Margot slowly setting her marriage on self-destruct for reasons that she can't quite articulate. Daniel has seeded the idea that she's unhappy, only she doesn't seem that unhappy. For whatever reason, though, she becomes infatuated with Daniel. This is the film's first major misstep because (and there's no polite way to say this) Daniel might just be the blandest would-be home-wrecker ever put to film.
I know beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the dude, a rickshaw driver (?), just isn't handsome. He kinda looks like Kevin McDonald from 'The Kids in the Hall.' (This movie is set in Canada – maybe that's a thing up there.) He has no pizzaz and doesn't come off as dangerous. The script has him representing Dionysian freedom but the dude just can't sell it. I recognize that anything could have sparked Margot's wanderlust. . .but THIS guy?
The other trouble is the alarmingly on the nose dialogue. When a character takes a pregnant pause and says “I'm scared of connections,” even if is in the context of an airport, how can one not roll their eyes? In the gym showers all the young women are and one side, wondering what life will be like when they get old. Reverse shot to the naked seniors and their looming varicose veins. Sarah Polley, the writer/director of the film, has many strengths, but nuanced subtext isn't one of them. (The dispassionate husband is writing a book about chicken!)
Despite these problems 'Take This Waltz' has a few things things that elevate it above soap opera. First and foremost there's Michelle Williams – painful to watch, yet sharp in her portrayal of a confused person poised to do themselves some harm. It's a cherry of a role (for anyone, but particularly for a woman) and she does great things with it. Also, Sarah Silverman offers up a terrific supporting turn as Seth Rogen's recovering alcoholic sister. Hats off, too, to the set design. The pastel colored bric-a-brac of the newlywed's home provides better backstory than the clunky dialogue. There are also some nice scenes played out in long takes. A few of them strike me as pointless verite for the sake of verite (and damn annoying, too) but Polly can't be accused of having no visual command.
All said, for every meandering scene that made me want to throw something at the screen (the Richard Simmons-esque water aerobics teacher really wasn't necessary) there's something else that snaps the film into a territory that is a little bit fresh. Margot's victory lap of sexual escapades is a remarkable montage of voyeurism that actually made me feel a little uncomfortable – as if she bought the ticket for this ride, she has the right to proceed in private. Polly's directorial stamp is one of no judgements, wonderfully summed up in a non-confrontation with the Silverman character, a bold bit of storytelling that is no doubt intended to leave you emotionally unsatisfied.
While I'm loathe to attempt to predict these things, it wouldn't surprise me if Williams' performance in 'Take This Waltz' gets mentioned when awards season kicks in. If Sarah Silverstein gets the right publicist you might see her name floated as well. Considering the dearth of good roles for women, it is a little striking how they both stand out in an otherwise frustrating film.
'Take This Waltz' is currently in select theaters and available on VOD now
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.