[Review] – Take This Waltz

10 Jul

Title: Take This Waltz
Year: 2012
Director: Sarah Polley
Writer: Sarah Polley
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Luke Kirby
MPAA Rating: R, language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity
Runtime: 116 min
IMDb Rating: 6.6
Rotten Tomatoes: 79%
Metacritic: 68

To say I was excited to check out Take This Waltz would be something of an understatement. Ever since I knew this film was upon us I’ve been just eagerly expecting to get my eyes on it. After all, this was the sophomore directorial effort from actress Sarah Polley, who surprised absolutely everyone in 2006 with her exquisite behind-the-lens debut, Away From Her, which scored a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for herself as well as Best Actress one for Julie Christie‘s stellar leading performance. So, to get her directing again, and this time handling a cast led by Michelle Williams, who’s an American treasure and one of the five best actresses working today, as well as Seth Rogen, who I really like, was something I couldn’t wait to see.

The film however, is very different from Away From Her, though this too is a pretty sensational piece of work from Ms. Polley, with great performances across the board. Ms. Williams plays Margot, a woman who one days meets Daniel, played by Luke Kirby, and is just immediately attracted to him, and they just have crazy chemistry with one another, and yet Margot has to let it go because, after all, she’s happily married to Lou, the character played by Mr. Rogen. But then she discovers that Daniel actually lives across the street from them, and so the film starts to gain some steam, as Margot’s summer is flipped upside down, and she has to start wondering about so many things regarding love.

This is just a very intelligent film, one that knows how to provide some really astonishing insight into these matters of the heart and to really lay it all down for us to bear witness, and Ms. Polley and her group of actors really know how to compel you like crazy, how to get you into this film, how to affect you emotionally, and damn it if this isn’t one of the very best films I’ve had the pleasure of seeing in 2012.

Take This Waltz is probably a lesser film overall than Away From Her was, but I think it would be wrong to even attempt to compare the two. Away From Her was masterful in how it just totally presented us with this director who, from seeing that film, you would assume had been directing movies for years and years, because of how keenly observant that film was, how mature in its approach, and because of how it got a performance from Julie Christie that was a sight to behold.

Take This Waltz isn’t as confident and mature as Ms. Polley’s debut was, there are a couple of instances in which you can kind of feel it faltering the tiniest of bits, kind of trying to find its way back to the tone and pacing it really wants to exude, though it always finds the right way again super fast. But even if this isn’t a masterpiece, you can rest assured that it still presents Sarah Polley as a directorial talent worth keeping our eye on. She tackles these very intense themes, and the vast majority of the time she comes out squarely on top, giving some truly beautiful moments, which look great thanks to some gorgeous composition and summertime colors that make the film feel hot, and a performance from Michelle Williams that, while I doubt will net her a fourth Oscar nomination, still sees her masterfully and seemingly effortlessly navigating some really complex emotions.

The situation Margot finds herself in is, indeed, really complex. On the one hand there’s her husband, who she really does love, and with whom she has all these little cute inside jokes. But at the same time, that kind of goofy charm she loves so much, and is so comfortable around, can at times be annoying, which is why Mr. Rogen really is the perfect choice to play Lou, a guy who’s lovable but who you could see could get frustrating to be with. And then on the other hand you have Daniel, whom she had a great connection with, and who even though doesn’t pressure her into an affair, he’s still there, looming over across the street, certainly showing her that if she leaves Lou, he’ll be there for her.

What I love, again, is that Ms. Polley is just a super observant director. I mean, sure, the narrative of the film is clearly moved along by whether Margot will choose Lou, the guy she knows and loves and feels comfortable with, or Daniel, this new guy she’s feeling these crazy wild uncontainable things for. But it’s also about much more than that, it’s a piece of work that thinks about what relationships really mean, about how much they matter, about how much they change with time. And we get to explore all of that with characters that feel very much real, totally three-dimensional, that we feel we know and at the same time we don’t, and they are played expertly by a very talented group of actors. This is a movie you just have to cherish.

I just loved how this film moved. I loved how it never once painted someone as the good or the bad guy; instead they all exist as real people, you feel for them, and there’s really no right or wrong, it’s just you watching some very complicated situations unfold. This is a film about love, about the very mysterious ways in which it works, and about how, pretty much every single time that emotion comes along, someone somewhere is going to get hurt by the actions it elicits. And where most movies with this set-up would only concern themselves with showing what decision Margot makes, Take This Waltz is a film far more concerned with exploring the reasons why she made it.

Yes, Take This Waltz may not be a masterpiece like Away From Her; but it doesn’t fall that short. Michelle Williams shows why she’s the best actress of her generation, Seth Rogen shows some serious chops beyond his usual comedic performance and gives a great performance, and so does Sarah Silverman in a pivotal supporting role as Lou’s sister. And Sarah Polley once again delivers a truly spectacular film, really attentive to the little nuances of its story, to the subtle looks and the small words in conversations, she remains one the young directors I’m most admiring of, and I sure as hell hope it’s not another five years for us to get another film from her.

Grade: A

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