A young woman questions the permanence of her otherwise happy marriage when a handsome stranger moves in across the street, creating humorous drama between her and her husband through awkward and/or horrifying situations. While this plot may seem like a contrivance of the contemporary romantic comedy genre, writer and director Sarah Polley breathes an unflinchingly honest and fresh perspective with “Take This Waltz.”
Margot (Michelle Williams) is a writer returning to Toronto from an assignment when she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist with whom she immediately forms a connection. The chemistry between both actors hums with energy that brings the attraction between the characters to a realistic, believable level. However, their relationship is shot down before it can take wing when Margot reveals that she is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chef currently writing a cookbook on the thousand ways to cook chicken. The plot carries Margot through the ups and downs of her marriage to Lou and her affair with Daniel, telling the story of a woman struggling with her faithfulness and her desires.
It would be easy to dismiss Margot as a wishy-washy, vain girl. She and Lou have been married for five years and are still very much in love. They play games and pranks on each other; they talk to each other in the secret language that only two people in love could understand. There are the occasional marital problems, but no glaring issues. Lou is not an abusive or neglectful spouse. Why, the audience might ask, would she throw away the stable and content marriage with Lou for what could be a brief, meaningless fling with a stranger?
This is the film’s great triumph. Michelle Williams succeeds in portraying a character that the audience can empathize with rather than criticize. She hits every note on the emotional scale, sometimes conveying feelings with only gestures and expressions. Margot is neither the stereotypical unhappy wife nor a one-dimensional cutout the viewer can dismiss with one word. Through Williams’ actions onscreen, the audience is treated to the image, painstakingly etched from the sharply-written dialogue and long looks, of a real woman.
Seth Rogen plays a character that is not the typical role most people associate him with, yet he’s still familiar enough to not feel too strange. Lou is both adorable and funny, endearing him to Margot and the audience, so when his heart is inevitably broken, it is both tragic and surprisingly amusing. The result is a scene that is beautifully human.
If Margot and lovable, warm Lou are not to blame for the calamity that is agonizingly, slowly spun out note by note by maestro Sarah Polley, then perhaps the fault lies with Luke Kirby’s Daniel? He is, after all, the third element that throws the happy couple into disillusionment and chaos. But Daniel isn’t the studly, one-trick man-mistress whose only quality is his chiseled jaw and flat, hewed abs – he is a closeted artist who pays his rent by pulling a rickshaw across the city. Furthermore, the scenes with Margot and Daniel feel natural; the attraction between the two is undeniably magnetic. The consummation of their affair is almost inevitable, yet still unexpected.
“Take This Waltz” consistently defies the problems that befall the genre by doing the unexpected. The audience never arrives at a line of dialogue before the film does. Polley’s dialogue is natural, not stilted, where the silence between words is as important as the words themselves. In combination with the film’s fitting soundtrack and meticulous staging of shots, it delivers scenes that achieve astounding visual and aural splendor.
The only major issue with the film arises near its conclusion. Polley’s plot meanders, circling a meaningful ending and takes its time to get there. There are several moments where “Take This Waltz” naturally feels like it should end, but the movie continues for not one, but two or three more scenes, creating an artificially stretched effect.
Still, “Take This Waltz” succeeds in weaving the story of a marriage’s failure, of loves lost and found, of romance and family and most importantly, of real people.
Speakeasy Rating: A-
“Take This Waltz”
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Rated R for language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity.