Take this Waltz

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/14/12 11:15:52

"A mature movie about an immature woman."
5 stars (Awesome)

It took me some time before I decided what, exactly, the end of "Take This Waltz" meant to me, even though writer/director Sarah Polley probably couldn't be much more clear. It's a movie that has every chance to be very frustrating, but is executed so well that it becomes sadly beautiful.

The story centers on Margot (Michelle Williams), a copy writer who, while on a research trip, meets a charming guy and winds up sitting next to him on the flight home. It would just be a harmless flirtation that ends there, except that it turns out that Daniel (Luke Kirby) lives right across the street, and Margot is married. Her husband Lou (Seth Rogen) is as good a man as they come and his sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) is one of Margot's best friends, but Daniel is a temptation she may not be able to resist.

Much of the time, where Polley is going with this seems pretty clear. Margot speaks early on about being afraid of being caught "in-between", and a lot of her banter with Lou lapses into a sort of playful baby talk; the implication seems to be that she's still got a fair amount of growing up to do - a lot of growing up, if you take one of the more memorable scenes as being part of that metaphor. The natural course of events is that her eventually choosing Lou or Daniel will demonstrate some sort of new-found maturity, but what makes the movie interesting, especially in its last act, is that the characters don't quite fit together that way without some puzzle pieces being left over.

Based on all that, Margot could easily be a very annoying, off-putting character, and it's kind of a a wonder that Michelle Williams makes her so intriguing. She's good at playing things that are meant to be obviously indicative of something bigger as normal, so Margot's cutesy interactions with Lou are just as much personality as symbol. Williams also keeps a layer of fear and guilt very close to the surface, enough so that it's compelling to watch that and her more joyful impulses push at each other.

Seth Rogen makes an impressive foil for her; as much as his job is often to be the guy whose relationship to Margot is simple as opposed to Daniel's complexity, he makes that simplicity something beautiful. He's very funny and just as solid and charming. Luke Kirby does a good job of being a contrast to Rogen, giving an impression of being more challenging, if not quite so solid. Sarah Silverman does a very nice job in a part that could be a disaster.

Polley does a lot of things that are impressively assured. Even the more serious moments show bits of creativity and whimsy, the sort of detail that makes a movie feel real. The movie has life, forward motion, and an understanding of life outside the filmmaker's own experience that a lot of its "young people figuring adult relationships out" contemporaries lack, perhaps the result of Polley making grown-up movies from an age when others weren't yet watching them and absorbing what works. She does go to songs-as-underscore a bit often, but at least in one case she makes it work exceptionally well to show the passage of time. She handles a potentially problematic last act very well, too, making what could feel like a movie dragging on after its climax or empty ambiguity into something interesting.

There's a lot of times when "Take This Waltz" could go off the rails, but Sarah Polley tends to go for straightforward and heartfelt rather than trying to sell detachment as sophistication. It can come across as a little simplistic, but Polley does unusually well using that to connect the audience to her characters.

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