Take This Waltz
26 August 2012
The characters of Take This Waltz live in a leafy urban neighbourhood the likes of which only exist in North America. Their bubble is coated with bright colours that insulate them from anything that happens outside their self-absorbed lives. There is a scene where two characters munch on their chicken drumsticks while an overly enthusiastic news reporter tries very hard to make his voice heard amidst the cacophony a nearby earthquake is causing.
Of course there is nothing wrong with characters inhabiting a world of their own, a world where the rules don’t follow ours. A good script never lets its viewers to question the probability of the events taking place in the world of the story. Sarah Polley’s script manages to do that just fine - you never question whether what transpires on the screen could or would happen. But, you keep asking yourself the same nagging question over and over again. Why? And why to these people?
The problem with Take This Waltz is not its self-awareness and the indie overcute that has been spread over every little thing on the screen. This is a world that recession hasn’t touched, a world where a man can pay rent in Toronto by pulling a rickshaw. Again, this is not a bad thing. This is a fantasy land, filled with fantastical creatures.
Margot (Michelle Williams) writes (supposedly) pamphlets for obscure Canadian tourist destinations. She lives in a perfect home, in a perfect neighbourhood with his cook-book writing, chicken-obsessed husband Lou (Seth Rogen). Under circumstances that only happen in a film, she meets the dreamy Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a flight home. It so happens that Daniel lives across the street and before long he and Margot begin an illicit affair, without the explicit sex (that will come later … oh boy, yes it does).
This is a concept stretched a little too far and despite Polley’s best efforts to keep it interesting and the cast’s good performances, it falls flat on its ugly face. Its blandness is infuriating and its supposed subtlety misses the mark completely. Quite why Margot decides to pursue this affair and Daniel’s shameless pushing for more do not really make them endearing to us. Much like Anna Paquin’s Lisa Cohen in the brilliant Margaret, Margot is not someone anyone would particularly like. But unlike Lisa, there is nothing in Margot that I wanted to know more about. She is terminally boring. And so is Daniel, who is as flat a character as it comes. With a cast that includes Rogen and Sarah Silverman as Lou’s alcoholic sister, you would at least expect some laughs. Nothing. What a waste.
It’s time to talk about that montage, which is one of the most embarrassing things I have ever seen. Towards the end of the third act, there is a montage of Margot and Daniel in a loft. It is a neat idea, very indie. Done a million times, so nothing original in its execution. But it’s one of those things that usually fits in this genre (I know I’m being vague, I just don’t want to spoil it for everyone).
Now, sex scenes are hard to do. You have to be intimate with a stranger in front of other strangers. And in a few weeks / months, thousands of strangers will watch you bumping the uglies. So it is admirable that directors are trying to find new ways to show these uncomfortable scenes. Polley, to her credit, comes up with a brilliant scene in a swimming pool earlier in the film - without doubt the best moment of the film; subtle, sweet and beautiful. Then she goes completely the other way in the montage.
What starts off as a couple getting more intimate, soon turns into full-on nude sex. Nothing wrong with that at all and I’m not the moral police, but it just doesn’t fit here. I would be fine with that were it not for the introduction of two redundant threesomes. Yes, that’s two threesomes. In a supposedly sweet indie dramedy. Why?
Well, it turns out Margot was sexually repressed. Thank you, for pointing that out at the end of the film. Now it all makes sense, right? No. Because nothing that came before even subtly points out to this. It is just a reason tagged at the very end. I replayed every scene in my head after the film ended and any allusion to Margot’s sexual frustration were done in the most offhand and bland ways.
I’m afraid this is a setback for Sarah Polley, whose Away From Her was simply brilliant. Here she delivers a muddled and painfully boring film. What a waste.