Review: Take This Waltz

Director: Sarah Polley
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Rating: 15

Just another cheerful, life-affirming Michelle Williams film.

Margot is a freelance writer who bumps into artist Daniel while away working on a travel piece. They meet-cute and flirt and share a taxi home and she ultimately fesses up that she’s married – at which point he fesses up that he lives across the road. AWKWARD. Margot returns to domestic life with her cookbook-writer husband Lou, which mostly involves eating lots and lots of chicken. Margot and Lou’s relationship is sweet, playful and loving – but she keeps thinking about Daniel, and it’s hard to avoid him when he lives across the street. Despite Margot’s best attempts to make a go of things with Lou, she finds herself increasingly dissatisfied and ultimately has to decide whether to stay in a marriage that she’s no longer convinced she’s committed to, or to risk everything by seeking adventure and passion with the handsome artist across the road.

I liked this film. I liked it a lot, and the main reason is because it trusted its audience to appreciate that decisions like this aren’t always clear-cut. Polley is very careful to divide the risks and rewards equally between both options, so it’s not a case of one party being clearly superior. Although there are clearly fractures in Margot’s marriage, it’s still demonstrably a relationship built on mutual attraction, a sense of fun, and a deep underlying friendship. These are two people who care deeply about one another. And yet Margot has her insecurities – presented, interestingly, through her sex life with Lou, where she admits that it’s difficult for her to let loose and be emotionally vulnerable with him. With Daniel, on the other hand, she has an undeniable spark, and he’s clearly attracted to her, and seems like an undeniably enticing prospect – but at the same time, there’s uncertainty in the future because she can’t be sure if this is a passing attraction or The Real Thing.

I suspect most viewers would’ve picked a side early on and been rooting for it; personally I wanted her to stay with Lou because I thought all their little in-jokes that they had as a couple were super-cute, and I found Daniel’s insistence on wearing calf-length trousers at all times supremely-offputting. I won’t give away Margot’s ultimate decision, but I will say that although it comes fairly late in the film, it’s not the end of the story. That’s something else I really appreciated – in the vast majority of romcoms, Margot’s decision would’ve been the end, but Polley’s interested in the real world after-effects of such a dilemma, and her take on it rang true.

As much as I joked at the beginning about this being yet another Michelle Williams film that leaves you feeling rather forlorn (dear Michelle Williams: please consider a bawdy French farce for your next project. Sincerely, Steven), I liked that Polley included some moments of levity as well. Some of the romantic interplay with both partners is genuinely adorable, and the scene in which Margot accidentally wets herself in a swimming pool nearly had a similar effect on me. Also, the deployment of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ not once, but twice (once in a happy moment, and later in a depressive reprise) is a nice touch – it fits both scenes surprisingly well, despite the mood whiplash between the two.

I can’t finish this review without mentioning a genuinely brilliant turn from Sarah Silverman who plays Lou’s recovering alcoholic sister Geraldine. Acknowledging her ultimate relapse barely counts as a spoiler – enough mention is made at the beginning of the high possibility of falling off the wagon that Geraldine basically becomes Chekhov’s Alcoholic from that moment on – but her friendship with Margot is one of the high points of the film, and it’s easy to believe that despite not having been officially told of Margot’s feelings for Daniel, Geraldine is all too aware of what’s going on. I don’t have masses of experience of Silverman’s stand-up comedy, but in this film she’s faultless, and her final scene is heartfelt, truthful and even painfully funny.

Take This Waltz makes a great antidote to the broader, cheesy-and-breezy mould of romantic comedy where everyone is paired up neatly before the closing credits roll. It genuinely wants us to consider that any sort of love triangle is likely to leave at least one person brokenhearted, and that there’s even a possibility of all three parties being destroyed by it. That perspective means it’s not a great date movie, but it is a great movie.

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