Cinema Review: Take This Waltz


DIR/WRI: Sarah Polley • PRO: Susan Cavan, Sarah Polley • DOP: Luc Montpellier • ED: Christopher Donaldson • DES: Matthew Davies • CAST: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen

I feel a bit ‘emperor’s new clothes’ with movies like this – they’re colourful crowd-pleasers, brimming with crackpot characters and snappy dialogue, and filled with existential exploration, but I just can’t seem to get on board any more.  We’ve been riding the indie-train for far too long now, and the self-knowing scripting and kooky characterisations are beginning to wear on my nerves.  So, Take This Waltz suffers from my ennui – but also from its own self-satisfaction.  It’s a movie that is just so very pleased with itself, and heavily invested in the idea that it is telling us something new.

The story is so timeless as to be banal: boy and girl are married; girl is slightly bored; girl meets exciting guy; will this relationship save her, or does she just need to save herself?  Michelle Williams plays Margot, the existential mess around whom the story gravitates, who has been comfortably married to Seth Rogan’s Lou for five years when she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), a stranger who turns out to be a neighbour.  Their attraction is immediate, though it feels slightly unbelievable as both characters are so painfully fractured and borderline annoying.  What follows is a typically angsty telling of one woman’s struggle as she is ‘torn between two lovers’ – and there are no surprises to be had, no matter how many acoustic singer-songwriter ballads accompany the over-saturated scenes.

The acting, it has to be said, is generally fantastic, especially from those you don’t expect – Rogan and Sarah Silverman (as Lou’s alcoholic sister Geraldine) surprise completely with their ability to emote, and they curry favour for characters who might otherwise have played background music to the brilliant Williams.  Margot is the role Williams was born to play, it seems so perfectly suited to her acting style and public persona – shy and modest, but with an undercurrent of passion that bubbles up when you least expect it.  However the script lets her, and indeed all the actors, down – it lays on metaphor and emotion so heavily that at times the dialogue feels like theatre rather than what should be naturalistic cinema.  This is particularly surprising considering the investment the movie seems to have in appearing subtle and nuanced – especially concerning Margot and Lou’s marriage, with all its quirks.  Equally, the characterisation of her ‘lover’, Daniel, is overwrought and just too intense – Kirby does all he can to keep up with it, but in the end their supposed passion devolves into painful hyperbole.

The director and writer, Sarah Polley, is flying the flag for Canadian cinema, and there is so much about this film that I wanted to like – but it just can’t distinguish itself from the myriad of similar independent productions flowing from the North Americas.  There is, quite simply, not enough originality in Take This Waltz, and by trying so hard to be unique it ends up tripping over itself in a mad dash to kookiness.  With every shot looking ‘instagrammed’ it’s a beautiful treat for the eyes, but as with any over-saturation of colour it is so overused that it loses all effect.  Despite the beautiful palette of suburban Toronto, some excellent acting and moderately-comic characterisation, it falls too short of indie-perfection to stand out in a sea of alternate storytelling.  Initially distracted by the smooth direction and colourful cinematography, by the end I am forced to confess that the emperor is just not wearing any clothes.

Sarah Griffin

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
116 mins
Take This Waltz is released on 17th August 2012

Take This Waltz – Official Website

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