Take This Waltz (2011) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Take This Waltz (2011)

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Someone should have told Margot (Michelle Williams) when she was growing up that living life exactly how and when you want requires a certain kind of crazy conviction and total abandonment of empathy.  She wants to live life to the fullest, but doesn't exactly have the expressive tools to explain to everyone around her that's her mission.  So she quietly goes about her daily routine making muffins, traveling, and eventually meets a handsome stranger who may be able to make her life exciting again.  On another note, someone should have told her that if the exciting life is all you live, that becomes just as repetitious as everything else.

Take This Waltz is a great film by the Canadian writer / director Sarah Polley.  She has performed and learned under one of the greatest directors of all time, Atom Egoyan, and has also been in films by David Cronenberg and Terry Gilliam.  Because of these associations there is plenty of visual invention throughoutWaltz, but the most important lesson of directing came from Egoyan.  There is no point throughout the movie where Polley treats her characters with anything less than total empathy and no one gets to be the victor.

Those sort of complications thrill me, because I love when movie characters are found to be as weak and flawed as the rest of us.  Polley shows Margot as the kind of person who will never be satisfied, but seems to find relationships that will never satisfy her.  She embraces fiction and says that she is a writer but the only artistic lies she creates are the kind that lend her credibility with her friends and family.  The handsome stranger (Luke Kirby) wonders why she's in a wheelchair, she lies and says that she has leg issues.  The sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) needs someone to tell her she's strong, so she lies and tries to support her through her alcoholism.  The husband (Seth Rogen) needs to feel loved, so she tells him he loves him.

Polley fills the film with a lot of art, some good and some bad, but the extra touches do wonders filling us in on what everyone is feeling.

This is all how it goes for some, and it seems that Margot might be the sort of person I would avoid because of the extra drama, but she's just one player in a sea of screwed up people.  The handsome stranger is playing a game based more on erotic charges than a mutual connection.  The sister-in-law is severely damaged and uses Margot as a way to avoid hurting her children.  Then there's the husband, who realized too late that he married his best friend and he's only in love with some aspects of Margot instead of everything.  Everyone is damaged but no one is actively hurting each other, which is why it's so difficult for anyone to just make a choice.

What's great are the little spaces and idiosyncrasies that Polley finds with Margot's relationships.  One very telling example of the difficulties between Margot and her husband is that, despite their playfulness, they still get undressed under the covers if they're going to have sex.  Or there's the great moment where Margot just wants someone to tell her to do the wrong thing and she crumbles when she's told it's her responsibility too.  Then there were the moments where young is contrasted with old, and we see there's not much of a difference in the long run.

The performances are uniformly fantastic.  Williams fully embraces her role as the gaze that guiltily lusts after so much and Kirby does a great job at suggesting that his role as seducer is something that was less decided on and more decided for him some time ago.  The real surprise comes from Silverman, a performer I've never found funny and has been borderline intolerable in everything I've seen her in.  But here, tempered with some self-reflection and humility, she shows that she has a gallows Diane Keaton in her, able to embrace quirk but hintat a lot of the sadness inside.

I loved how the film highlights how we sometimes wait for the immoral things to happen because of what we want instead of having the strength to go for them ourselves.

There's so much to love about Waltz that the few missteps, while minor, are glaring.  Polley hasn't quite acquired the subtle touch to utilize fantasy in a way that doesn't distract from the relationships.  The few awkward moments are the film are when we escape into Margot's imagination, instead of being trapped in her gaze, where water ballet and cafe dreams overpower the effectively subtle narrative.  These few escapes betray what we already know of Margot, that she is able to cope through her words instead of images, and add an unneeded layer of whimsy.

But those are minor quibbles.  Sarah Polley is already a great director and Take This Waltz is another strong step toward what has already been a remarkable career.

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Take This Waltz (2011)

Written and directed by Sarah Polley.
Starring Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman.

Posted by Andrew

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  1. I really like Polley as a director and this movie sounds interesting. Will have to check out soon.

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