Michelle Williams always brings fresh intrigue and a subsequent realistic and nuanced performance to her roles, blossoming more in indie/art-house films where her character is given the space to explore than any other actress of her generation. Therefore, a film about adultery effects on a marriage starring Williams from actress-turned-writer/director Sarah Polley – who brought us the wonderfully touching tale, Away From Her, about a woman with Alzheimer’s and its effect on a long-term relationship – was always going to be a fascinating concept on screen to watch the actress develop.
Indeed, this film’s saving grace is Williams whose character follows another tormented path of self-discovery/preservation, although the super cool setting of Toronto’s bohemian suburbia will serve as another idyllic attraction for some. However, where it becomes a little too self-conscious of its own vanity and has some questionable and muddled moments of credibility is also where Take This Waltz trips up on its own ingenuity, however unique Polley’s angle on adultery might be.
Take This Waltz sees young, happily married, professional couple Margot (Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen) living the perfect domestic life in Toronto, surrounded by extended family and lots of friends. When Margot goes away on a work trip, she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), and strikes up a friendship that triggers a spark of interest. After the pair shares an airport taxi ride home, much to Margot’s surprise, she discovers that they have been living across the street from one another. As placid and humdrum as home life gets with chicken-cooking food writer Lou, and however idyllic them may think they have it, Margot begins finding flaws and wondering what life could be like with artist Daniel.
Take This Waltz starts with a comfortable and thoughtful enough momentum, setting the scene and seeds of doubt that soon turn a little too wistful, bordering on meandering at times to retain intensity fully throughout. Indeed, Williams’s charm does work to pull things back on track, especially one beautifully realised scene of Margot and Daniel at her favourite fairground ride, loosing themselves in the moment – like the feeling of being in love should always be. This contrasts with the routine she shares with Lou that is still full of respect and passion with their baby speak, but there are hurdles associated with living with each other’s foibles and neuroses 24-7 that form cracks in their existence and make for a nice sub-plot character study of long-term relationships here.
Another less comfortable casting as the story transpires is that of Rogen who dabbled in serious subject matter with 50/50 but faired better because that film was laced with comedy that he is good at injecting in the right dosages. In this, he feels a little out of his depth opposite Williams, moving from bland (as his chicken dishes) one moment to foolish the next, however sweet and generous he tries to make his character. It’s also undecided whether Kirby’s subtly at seduction is deliberate or if his character is just eerily creepy following Margot around, which makes any designs on her a trifle unsettling to find genuinely romantic. There is also a strange, a-sexual montage of a possible alter-existence near the end that is up for debate as to whether it’s for real or purely daydream, but does little to convince us next of who comes out best in the situation – Margot or Lou?
Perhaps that’s just it; just as Margot’s line to Daniel about her loathing of flight connections states: “I think I may get lost and may rot and die … I’m afraid of wondering if I’ll miss it. I don’t like being in between things. I’m afraid of being afraid.” Maybe Polley is also afraid of being afraid of showing us who benefits from the whole journey and ironically prefers leaving us in the middle of things? Thank goodness for the alcoholic episode from Lou’s sister Geraldine, brilliantly played by Sarah Silverman, that punctuates the over-indulgent façades and displays the most refreshing authenticity of the whole thing.
By Lisa Giles-Keddie