Directed by: Sarah Polley
Premise: A married woman (Michelle Williams) is tempted to have an affair with her neighbor (Luke Kirby).
What Works: Take This Waltz is an impressive piece of romantic filmmaking. One of the outstanding qualities of this film is the way that it plays upon the usual structure and expectations of movie romances. Typically, a cinematic romance involves two people meeting and falling in love but something blocks them from being together and either that obstacle is overcome and the couple lives happily ever after or they go their separate ways in misery. In the most successful romances the audience wants to see the lovers end up together and overcoming the obstacle requires a sacrifice in which their love is visually substantiated. Take This Waltz does work with this basic structure but in a very smart and even subversive way. This film is about what happens after the “happily ever after” as a married woman is tempted with the possibility of an affair. But the temptation goes beyond lust or boredom; writer and director Sarah Polley has created a film about the vague emptiness of normal life and the film employs clever cinematic techniques to make visible the emotional and ephemeral qualities of the everyday. Some of this is achieved in cutaways and smart blocking of the action and the filmmakers of Take This Waltz create some impressive visuals such as a swimming scene in which the would-be lovers maneuver around one another like animals in a mating ritual. Aside from the cinematic qualities of the film, Take This Waltz is able to articulate nebulous feelings and ideas through several key performances. Michelle Williams, who is quickly proving to be one of the best actresses of her generation, plays the lead and she manages to navigate a very tricky role. In lesser hands her character would come across as a whinny and ungrateful harpy but Williams infuses her character with pathos and her desire isn’t about craven lust but an attempt to fill a gap in her life. Luke Kirby plays her suitor and he has a similar quality as his character pursues an unattainable woman. Two surprising performances are provided by Seth Rogan and Sarah Silverman. Silverman plays a recovered alcoholic and within a few scenes she manages to make an impression; her character is the voice of clarity whose troubles mirror those of Williams’ character. Rogan plays the husband and the actor provides a much more mature performance in Take This Waltz than he has in the past; he is still likeable in the way that he has proven to be in 50/50 and Knocked Up but Rogan restrains himself and it is in this that Take This Waltz finds the tension of its story and manages to be a little subversive. The film creates a situation in which the audience will feel conflicted about the love story in front of them, simultaneously wanting the couple to live happily ever after but fearing the heartbreak that it will take in order to get there.
What Doesn’t: When Take This Waltz enters its final act the film gets a little flat. This is a consequence of resolving the protagonist’s desire; there is no longer any tension in the story and the style of this portion of the film contrasts with the more delicate tone of the bulk of the film. Viewers should also be aware that Take This Waltz is told in a subtle way and it plays much like a Hal Ashby picture. The filmmakers do not micromanage the audience’s emotions and allow scenes to play out in order to capture authentic moments. This is not bad but it is contrary to the norms of Hollywood moviemaking.
Bottom Line: Take This Waltz is an exceptional picture. The filmmakers are smart and self-aware but they’ve also managed to make a picture that is achingly emotional without being sentimental and that gets to some provocative observations about love.
Episode: #399 (August 5, 2012)