Canadian actress/director Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz (2011) is a frustrating, yet undeniably beguiling observation of love and infatuation told through a staunchly female perspective, and features the talents of Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman. Williams plays Margot, a shy, introverted writer, bubbling like a hormonal volcano about to erupt in a myriad of idiosyncratic exploits. Her husband is Lou (Rogen), a lovable yet dreary spouse who spends his time working on his own cookbook.
Margot and Lou’s love life is far from abysmal, however, when Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) on an internal flight between Nova Scotia and Toronto, she feels a spark of passion she hasn’t felt for a long time. Will she act on her hormonal urges, or listen to her morally compromised subconscious? Polley has created a unique and compelling romantic tragedy that often veers towards the sublime before succumbing to some tonally erratic direction and a script, which often feels like it’s been ripped from a Danielle Steel novel.
Some scenes in Take This Waltz, such as a particularly revealing shower scene and an shared encounter between Margot and Daniel on a theme park ride (sound tracked perfectly by The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star) are charmingly shot, catching the eye and engaging the mind in an intelligent and thoughtful way. However, for each sublimely framed shot there’s a selection of poorly conceived scenes riddled with heavy-handed metaphors.
Unsurprisingly, Michelle Williams steals the show, successfully transforming what should be an unlikeable and incredibly introspective protagonist into an endearing character. Her ability to switch through the gamut of emotional responses is sublime, managing to convey powerful emotions with a commendable sincerity which adds a much needed grounded perspective to Polley’s overly-polished, sun-drenched film. Sadly, Polley’s distinctive voice works less well on the two male leads, with Daniel appearing as little more than a character from an airport romantic novel and Lou, whilst strangely affable, has as much life and vivacity as an ageing family pet.
Less of a romantic drama, more a mature coming-of-age tale, Take This Waltz attempts to intelligently create its own cinematic mold through a chain of eye-catching imagery and a unique interpretation of familiar romantic troupes. Sadly it all feels a little too contrived and melodramatic with Lou’s alcoholic sister Geraldine’s (Silverman) frail message of “Life has gaps in it, it just does”, revealing the fragile foundations Polley’s film is based upon.