July 12, 2012

MOVIES: Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, 2012)

Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz isn't quite at the level of her directing debut, Away From Her, but it's a very good movie with three terrific central performances.

Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen are Margot and Lou, a couple nearing their fifth anniversary; they're struggling a bit with the transition from the passion of the early years to the cozy domesticity of the middle years. Neither one is willing to admit that there's a problem, and they're trying frantically to pretend that they still have the romantic fire they had as newlyweds, but we can see how hard they're working to make that fire happen.

So when Margot meets the charming Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip, and he turns out to have just moved into the house across the street, she finds herself torn between loyalty to Lou and the temptation of something new and exciting. It's not a comfortable place for her to be; "I don't like being in between things," she tells Daniel (the dialogue is occasionally a bit clunkingly obvious, especially in the early going). Throw in Margot's apparent inability to ever be genuinely happy, and it's clear that this mess isn't going to end well for anyone.

There are a few problems with the movie. Margot and Lou seem to have an awfully nice home, given that she's a struggling writer and he's a cookbook author. Daniel's quirky charm is painted on rather too thick (not only is he an artist, but he supports himself by pulling tourists around the city in a rickshaw). And Sarah Silverman is (as always) a waste of time in her small role as Daniel's troubled sister.

But there are some spectacular moments to be found -- a verbal seduction scene in which Daniel has Margot melting in her seat without a single touch (and to be honest, I was wiping my own brow a bit), a falling-in-love scene set to "Video Killed the Radio Star." And the actors are marvelous. Rogen doesn't get a role this serious very often, and he rises to the challenge; Kirby is more than just a pretty face (though he certainly is that); and both men are entirely compelling as they struggle to please a woman who's too indecisive to know what she wants.

And Williams adds to her quickly growing list of remarkable performances. Passive is a hard thing for most actors to play, because it's not a very likable quality, but Williams is entirely willing not to be liked. Margot is not someone who takes charge of her life; she is someone to whom life happens. Williams brings her so vividly to life that by the end of the movie, it doesn't really matter whether the plot leaves her with Lou or Daniel; the tragedy of her life is that she's never going to be happy, no matter who she's with.

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