Retrospective Review: Take This Waltz

Year: 2011
Runtime:
Director: Sarah Polley
Writer: Sarah Polley
Stars: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Luke Kirby

By Kristy Strouse

“Take this Waltz” (2011) has the main character’s story undone slowly, with a meditative and varied look on relationships. There is a lot of restraint with the film, and its patience is where it flourishes, because it allows a deeper engagement with the subjects and the questions that it creates.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou Seth Rogan are a married couple, distant at times, but with their own cute comforts and familiarities. There’s a sadness to Margot even though their life seems to be good. They are both writers, him a cook crafting a chicken recipe book, and her a writer of pamphlets for tourist locations. When she flies to one of these locations, she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) and the life she knew is upended because as fate would have it, they end up the plane back together and soon discover they are neighbors.

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There’s an attraction and more than that- a curiosity, right from the start. What may have dissipated for some over time, their proximity makes it nearly difficult to do so. When they start seeing each other more, their bond deepens, but Margot doesn’t act on her impulses. Meanwhile, her husband is unaware of the space forming, entirely wrapped up in his work. Williams and Kirby’s chemistry is electric, and their feelings develop into something real and repressed.

All the performances are done really well, with Williams- of course- being the star. Some of the dialogue is a bit strange, occasionally drawing you out of the story. Sarah Silverman plays Rogan’s sister, and while she’s a valued addition, has some cliché turns to her story. Overall though, it’s the humanistic and harsh reality that settles into the bones of “Take This Waltz” that makes it memorable.

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There’s one scene in particular that I love. When Margot and Daniel decide to spend some time together, they go to an amusement park. A song (The Buggles, Video Killed the Radio Star, another on point choice) is blaring as they spin around and around, shifting to a feeling of elation and freedom that they both embrace. When it ends and the lights come up, and the ride comes to a screeching halt, their faces drop. Suddenly, it’s time to wake up, to address that this “ride” is eventually going to end.

There is a lot of restraint with the film, and its patience is where it flourishes…All the performances are done really well, with Williams- of course- being the star.

The movie is very light, airy and sunny, with a Toronto that is welcoming and a delight to see. It makes the warring within Michelle even more of a contrast as her surroundings remain so vivacious. It’s a film that asks a lot of questions, ensuring you ponder them as a viewer, but it doesn’t provide answers. Are we ever really satisfied? The human condition of always wanting more, something new, can be perceived in a few ways here. Is this new love, true love? Can/should we ignore it if it comes? Does that even exist? Depending on how you engage with this tale, opinions will vary.

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This is written and directed by actress Sarah Polley, with her sophomore turn behind the lens. She’s a talented writer and has a real perception of detail and interpretation. With this film, it’s clear that there is a lot of thought behind certain trajectories in a way that makes this seemingly common story, nuanced. There’s also full-frontal nudity and it isn’t sexualized, but instead is done in a way that shows the feminine form without the gaze so often depicted in films.

It’s a film, that if you let it, will dramatically stir you. When I first saw it I wasn’t sure how to feel, I just knew that I did.

The movie begins and ends with our main character is the same position. While she changes over the course of the film and the circumstances of the three characters it revolves around does, the beginning and final shot remain the same in a way that provides one bit of clarity: We need to quell the stirring inside ourselves to combat emptiness, because around each new corner there may be a temptation or a potential decision that shifts everything. In the end, it’ll cycle back to the same conclusion, that same yearning. If we don’t fix who we are, how can we be content with another?

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Or, maybe you can perceive the story differently. It’s the wonder of film, and Polley’s portrait of this love triangle doesn’t paint anyone as being particularly likable or any choice right. Instead, it’s a film, that if you let it, will dramatically stir you. When I first saw it I wasn’t sure how to feel, I just knew that I did.

4/5 Stars

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