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Take This Waltz - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Take This Waltz
Directing: B+
Acting: A-
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

Take This Waltz takes an intriguing concept, and then contrives it within an inch of its life. It poses a challenging question: What happens when you fall in love with someone, but you're already with someone pretty great? And then it never quite arrives at an answer. Maybe the answer is just that it makes your life a mess.

This is a movie without a villain. In many movies, the role of the husband would be made at least to some degree villainous -- to provide some measure of reason for the wife to want to stray. Here we have Seth Rogen, in a supporting role not even introduced until several scenes in, and he pretty much seems like a guy worth keeping.

His wife, Margot (Michelle Williams), on the other hand, doesn't seem to know what she wants. On top of that, writer-director Sarah Polley (Away From Her) doesn't seem to know what she wants her to want. The truth of the matter is that Margot is not a fully realized character. Williams, an eminently talented actress, gives it her all in the performance, but she's limited by the way the character is written. She has bizarre quirks that wouldn't really fly in the real world, like always requesting a wheelchair when switching planes at airports. She's doesn't like being in between things, she says. She's afraid of being afraid. This seems to be the theme Polley intends, and, well: huh?

I wondered if maybe Margot was supposed to have some psychological imbalance. Maybe she'd be better off on some sort of medication. She shifts with strange swiftness between childlike fancy and sudden melancholy. But nobody really talks about this. And although something is clearly off in the marriage between Margot and Lou, for some reason they never directly talk about it. Lou obsesses over chicken recipes he's working on for a cookbook and Margot regularly attempts to seduce him while he's cooking.

But before all that, the movie starts with the first of many major contrivances. She runs across a man named Daniel (Luke Kirby) while out of town for work, and he makes a negative first impression. Then, by chance, he happens to be sitting in the same aisle of Margot's airplane seat on the way home. They talk. They share a taxi. And, oh my god, he lives right across the street from her!

Very little in this movie is actually believable, whether it's the plot turns or the behaviors of the characters. Honestly none of it quite rings true. What sort of saves it is the lead performances, which are excellent. Sarah Polley is clearly a gifted director. I'm not as convinced by her writing skills. Sarah Silverman shows up as Lou's recovering alcoholic sister, and in a later scene when she has inevitably relapsed, nothing about the scene feels right. It feels more like yet another plot contrivance than anything else. And let's face it, Silverman is a little out of her depth around these other actors.

But! Take This Waltz has other redeeming qualities. Williams and Kirby are both pretty damn easy on the eyes. That said, all other things being equal, why wouldn't Margot choose Daniel, who is both seductive and impossibly good looking? All Lou has going for him is he's impossibly charming. Sorry, Seth Rogen.

Actually, Daniel is clearly supposed to be likable but I didn't like him that much, aside from being gorgeous. This is a guy who knows full well Margot is married but spends copious amounts of time deliberately seducing her, even while she's openly conflicted and trying to keep her marriage intact. That's not a likable quality in a man.

But Luke Kirby does an excellent job of demonstrating Daniel's capacity for seductiveness. This is one element that is skillfully stretched through most of the movie: while Margot is married, no physical infidelity actually takes place. It's more of an emotional affair, which is still sexual but without actual sex. Although there is an intensely erotic scene at a coffee shop where Daniel spends several minutes describing in detail what he would do to her. It's very graphic, like he's reading aloud a passage from Fifty Shades of Grey.

Polley, as a director, does make some interesting choices. A scene at a swim class makes an impression, especially in the showers afterward. Three younger women are showering together and talking about relationships and growing old. This is intercut with images of the other side of the shower room, thick with old, fat, naked ladies -- shown full frontal, head to toe. You don't see that every day. I wondered what the casting call for that looked like.

Sarah Polley clearly has specific reasons for each image she shows in her movies, but the reasons are not always clear. This is because the script itself lacks clarity. Watching Take This Waltz, even with its deliberate moral ambiguities that seem to serve no real purpose, is generally an enjoyable experience. This is pretty much due to the actors, and mostly Michelle Williams. It has some lovely cinematography, easily evoking the heat of a Toronto summer in low-income homes without air conditioning. This movie is a pleasant enough experience, so long as you don't allow yourself to think too critically about what's going on.

Luke Kirby and Michelle Williams are inconsummate lovers in TAKE THIS WALTZ.

Overall: B-
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