Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Take This Waltz (2012) – Review

Review: Take This Waltz is a character drama with a complex protagonist. The film is about Margot, a married woman who meets Daniel while writing an article. They have an instant powerful connection, and to make matters worse they are neighbors. Margot flirts with the idea of being with Daniel but also loves her husband Lou and does not want to hurt him. Writer-director Sarah Polley crafts the narrative to be sympathetic to Margot, when in most cases she would probably be viewed as the villain. She is somewhat troubled (or seems to be) and naturally restless. This attribute is paramount to Polley making her likable while toying with the idea of leaving her husband (it also helps to have Michelle Williams in the part). The viewer recognizes in Margot their own aspirations outside their trapped life. But rather than Margot be fully functional, her restlessness or even inner sadness gives her a pass. Polley is almost commenting on it not being enough for someone to have a powerful connection with someone else while already being in a relationship (with all the attached social magnitudes) to break from said relationship. For society to accept that she can be with someone that is not her husband, either her husband needs to be presented as deficient (which he is not, at least not outside any realistically reasonable expectations) or Margot need to be deficient, otherwise the audience will likely turn on Margot and thus the narrative will not work (and by deficient I mean, a palpable reason for the audience to side with and understand where Margot is coming from – and in this, her restlessness allows the audience to relate and see that it is not that she is a bad person for wanting something different, it is just who she is, rather than her wanting to be with Daniel in spite of Lou even though that is true). Even with Daniel, who is new and seems to make Margot happy(ier), there is noticeably something missing. Polley does this also to illustrate that while new seems exciting and different new still fades and becomes old and the same. Polley has more complex characters than are typically found in romance dramas (dramedies). These characters are much more realistic than the audience is use to for the genre, and it is refreshing. The film in a way is also a comment on the nature of relationships, specifically the difference from the day-to-day normalcy for couples that have been together for a while and the high of the ‘honeymoon’ period. There is not really anything wrong in Margot’s marriage. She is just restless and imagines something different as she faces the day-to-day tedium of her life (the pros and cons of it). Daniel is different (and is presented as being noticeably different than Lou personality wise). Polley does not condemn nor condone Margot or her choices; she just presents them as they are. The other marriage in the film is between Lou’s sister who is an alcoholic (who goes off the deep-end sometimes) and her husband. Again, Polley presents it as it is without commenting on whether it is good or bad. Relationships are complicated. The film is more about the complexity of life and relationships than the typical cookie-cutter characters and narratives that populate the romance genre. The film does have comedy as well, mostly coming from the absurdity of everyday life (the scene in which Margot is participating in water aerobics is very funny, when it is turned on its head as being seen by a third party). Issue wise, Polley has a lot of slow moments in the film, which somewhat work against the momentum of the narrative. The dramatic weight of Margot’s restlessness and neediness is not lifted with enough comedic moments making the film feel more burdensome for the viewer when the overall tone seems lighter, creating a conflict in the tone which subconsciously confuses the view, as they are not sure what kind of film they are watching which again can make it seem slow. Also, Margot is not going to be likable for everyone, and thus the narrative will not work for everyone. Take This Waltz works overall however because Polley has created characters and relationships that feel very real to the viewer, and thus is a good romance and character drama.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Sarah Polley is probably best known as an actor, but with two commercial features that are both solid she is making a name for herself as a very good dramatic director. I look forward to her next film. Jonathan Goldsmith’s score fades into the background, while the found music soundtrack plays a bigger role in reinforcing the emotions of the film. Cinematographer Luc Montpellier does fantastic work (I really look forward to his future work). The film takes place during the summer and needs to both convey the heat of summer and of the passion Margot is feeling towards Daniel. Montpellier and Polley accomplish this by having the camera intimately shoot Margot and for the lighting to be natural and soft, with lots of reds and yellows and other warm colors. This is also accomplished in Matthew Davies’s production design. Polley often has Margot taking in the warmth of the sun through the kitchen window as Lou is otherwise occupied (which makes the ending reveal more telling). Polley and Davies have selected the perfect Toronto neighborhood to fit the feel of the film (even if it does not work logically taking into consideration the economic welfare of the characters). The performances from the small cast are fantastic. Sarah Silverman is good in support bringing both comedy and a serious edge to the film. Seth Rogen is very charming as Lou, but also seems somewhat blind to Margot’s needs (and/or troubles). Luke Kirby has a breakout performance as Daniel, playing somewhat of a master seducer. He knows just the right buttons to push. Michelle Williams is excellent carrying the film, and playing Margot to be the complex character she is. In a certain light, she really is not a likable person, but Williams’s intrinsic adorableness seems to help overcome this.

Summary & score: Take This Waltz walks a thin line with its complex protagonist being likable (as she can also be seen as the antagonist if she is unlikable). If the viewer relates to her, the film is a good romantic character drama. If not, the film will play very tediously. 7/10

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