Take This Waltz is most successful if viewed as an accurate (yet flawed) character study of a depressed girl in the ass-end of her 20's. I think the word girl could even be replaced with person. Men go through similar phases in their lives but, writer/ director Sarah Polley concentrates only on Margot (Michelle Williams). And like Margot herself, this is a quiet (almost shy) and reserved film. Which is fine. I just wish it had been more interesting. If good intentions were everything, Polley would have made a masterpiece. Instead, we have something slightly less.
Margot, a writer of tourist guides, is happily married to Lou (Seth Rogen) but, one day finds herself falling for Daniel (Luke Kirby) a handsome bachelor who has just moved in across the street. Despite the story's apparent simplicity, the film takes its time building the plot. Too much time, in fact. Many scenes go on far longer than they need to. We get the point and yet, the scene continues. And continues. Take This Waltz's running time easily hits the two hour mark, which is a bit lengthy for this type of movie.
Aspects of the plot are unrealistically convenient. Daniel is a guy who pulls a rickshaw for a living yet he moves into a house that –on the outside- seems like it would cost thousands of dollars in monthly rent. On the inside, many paintings hang. We discover he is also an aspiring artist. Ooo! This hunky dream guy gets more interesting with each passing smirk. And no matter how early or late Margot steps outside her house -BOOM- Daniel is always right there, ready and available for walks, martinis or trips to the swimming pool. All of this goes on unbeknownst to Lou.
As her relationship with Daniel develops, Margot is transformed into a perpetually guilty soul, always rubbing her husband's shoulders, her body language quietly apologetic. And that is when things start to fall apart. Example: A seemingly innocuous moment like, Lou asking Margot not to hug him as he is serving their dinner of chicken cacciatore, as he does not want to spill tomato sauce all over the place. Margot takes this personally, and we watch her emotionally deflate. Michelle Williams plays this character heartbreakingly well. Even though Margot does some pretty cruel things, we still identify with her... This poor, sad confused girl.
The choice of Seth Rogen as the husband is clearly made to keep his character as likeable and sympathetic as possible. It would have been so easy to make Lou into a cookie-cutter A-Hole husband. His casting was a wise move. How could Margot even think of cheating on America's favorite funnyman? Refreshingly, when the two guys meet, Lou seems to like Daniel. He eagerly jumps on the rickshaw and even offers to cook Daniel some chicken. It's easily the saddest and most vulnerable performance of Rogen's career.
Okay... It has to be said (or rather, typed): Sarah Polley is immensely talented. As an actress, she has excelled in every type of role. From Atom Egoyan's heartbreaking masterpiece The Sweet Hereafter, to a mainstream hits like Doug Liman's Go or Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake. Away From Her, Polley's directorial debut was just as somber and beautiful as anything Egoyan (a master) has ever done. But here, the script fails her. Once you've agreed to shoot a (I hate to say it) slightly subpar screenplay, not even the greatest filmmaker in the world can salvage it.
She does her best with this material. But in defiance of Polley's valiant attempts to keep her characters from regressing into mainstream rom-com cutesy-ness, she includes the following exchange:
Margot: We should do this again some time. Get a coffee or something.
Daniel: Was that a should-vitation?
Margot: A what?
Daniel: Was that an invitation or a should-vitation?
Quirky, right? *Sigh*
There are few things as frustrating as sitting down to watch a film that you are hoping to enjoy... and not enjoying it. The script falters because it attempts to do too many things all at once. Polley wants to have her cake and eat it too. She wants to make a warm, rose-tinted rom-com AND a subtle, emotionally fractured character study -- simultaneously. Unfortunately, each side detracts from the other, and both endeavors end up failing. Yet, there is still more cinematic originality in the first half of this film than 75% of the crap that gets released. I'm so torn. Deep down, I love Take This Waltz for what it aspires to be. It just wasn't very successful.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.