Sunday, 3 June 2012


Hopscotch Films
Now Showing

Is an emotional affair really cheating? Really? That's one of the major questions posed by writer-director Sarah Polley in Take This Waltz, the actress-cum-filmmaker's emotionally authentic sophomore effort.

Margot (Michelle Williams) and Daniel (Luke Kerby) meet-cute at a colonial village, where the handsome stranger insists Margot participate in the re-creation whipping of an adulterer. They later meet again on the plane home to Toronto, and so easy and relaxed is their conversation, and so amused are they by each other, they share a cab from the airport to the city.

As luck (or fate) would have it, Margot and Daniel are neighbours, the struggling artist having moved into her street only recently. Ordinarily that would be taken as a sign -- or an open invitation -- for romance, that is, of course, if Margot wasn't married to Lou (Seth Rogen).

A good natured chef working on an all-chicken cookbook (It Tastes Like Chicken), Lou isn't a schlub, a brute or a villain in any way, so Margot's reasons for contemplating straying from the marital home, and bed, aren't quite as clear cut -- for her or the audience.

One of the strengths of Polley's film is its lack of judgememnt: no one is demonised or punished for their thoughts, feelings or actions. That may frustrate those who do feel that an emotional affair is just as adulterous as a sexual one, but life is messy, and the heart wants what the heart wants.

The key to the success of Take This Waltz is the performance of Michelle Williams. Her Margot is neither a shrew or bitch; she's completely empathetic whilst simultaneously frustrating with her indecision and inconsistency: despite her growing attraction to Daniel, Margot doesn't try too hard to avoid him or his company; agreeing to coffee, cocktails, and night swimming.

Her Margot may also be girlish and coy at times, but there's no hint of Marilyn Monroe; it's as different a characterization from Williams' Oscar-nominated role in My Week With Marilyn as it is from her stripped back turn in Blue Valentine (2009), a film which covers similar thematic and emotional territory to Waltz but in a completely different manner.

Good, too, is Seth Rogen. The comic actor doesn't necessarily stretch his dramatic wings here, but as the naively neglectful husband he presents a slightly more mature side yet with that trademark gravelly laugh intact. (Any overt comedy is left to comedienne, Sarah Silverman, as Lou's recovering-alcoholic older sister.)

If Luke Kirby's Daniel is less defined, given that he's essentially little more than an object of attraction and the agent for action and change, the actor still registers; as much for his aesthetic qualities as for his articulate playfulness.

All of this praise isn't to suggest that Take This Waltz is a perfect film. It's not. At 116 minutes, it's too long -- Margot's life-altering decision coming too late in the piece -- and there are several false endings which annoy. But ultimately, the pros far outweigh the cons for me.

I haven't seen Sarah Polley's directorial debut, 2007's Away From Her, but its story of a long-time married couple whose relationship is threatened by the loss of memory of the Alzheimer's-stricken wife (Julie Christie) would seem to bookend perfectly with Take This Waltz.

Young love, old love: will Polley's third outing behind the camera be concerned with middle-aged love? Who knows, but if the young writer-director brings the same emotional authenticity and attention to performance as she does to Take This Waltz, the results promise to be rewarding. Bitter-sweet but rewarding.

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