Wednesday, April 2, 2014



While Sarah Polley is responsible for one of my favorite movies of the last few years (Stories We Tell) she's also responsible for what I consider to be one of the most frustrating movies of the last few years with Take This Waltz. I'm not sure if it was Polley's intention to frustrate us, or if the movie itself has a lot of problems. Any good/great tale about a marriage or a relationship should always frustrate us to some degree. Films like; Faces, A Married Couple, The Puffy Chair & Blue Valentine (also starring Michelle Williams) all contain characters and/or scenarios that infuriate us, but that's partially what John Cassavetes, Alan King, The Duplass Brothers & Derek Cianfrence were trying to accomplish. Then there's relationship films like Unfaithful or Indecent Proposal that feature stupid and/or unrealistic characters & scenarios that infuriate us because they're...stupid & unrealistic. Take This Waltz falls somewhere in the middle off all this. There's great things about it (the ambiance, the score & certain isolated scenes) and then there's very very frustrating things about it as well (the choices our main character makes through the course of the film). I really want to love Sarah Polley's sophomore feature unconditionally but I just can't...

Take This Waltz is the story of "Margot" (Michelle Williams) - a married freelance writer who starts to develop mutual feelings for her neighbor "Daniel" (Luke Kirby) who just so happens to live across the street. Throughout the film Margot & Daniel "respectfully flirt" with one another (Daniel is fully aware she's married) but after a while the attraction becomes too strong and Margot leaves her husband "Lou" (Seth Rogen) for Daniel.

Margot & Lou
Hey, people fall out of love sometimes. It happens. But in the case of Take This Waltz I just wish there was a stronger reason for Margot to leave her husband. I get the feeling that Sarah Polley was trying to show the power of attraction and how difficult it can be to fight off sometimes, but it ended up coming off a little weak. I still respect her for making Margot's husband a good guy instead of a typical shitty husband who deserves to be cheated on. Filmmakers, both make & female, typically craft these cliché scenarios where one spouse (usually the boyfriend or husband) is mean, abusive, unfeeling, unfaithful or distant, which gives their partner (usually the girlfriend or wife) absolutely no choice at all but to cheat with the conveniently attractive person (usually a guy) who just so happens to understand them in a way their partner no longer does or never did. But that’s not the case here at all with Margot & Lou. At no point in the film does Sarah Polley indicate that there's some major underlying problems in their marriage. They have a pretty typical relationship. They have inside jokes, they're playful, they fight, they have little ticks that annoy each other, etc. It's obvious there's things Lou has to work on but nothing out of the ordinary. And the same thing applies to Margot. She's a good person like her husband, but there's stuff she could be better at in the relationship too. Daniel brings nothing to the table besides good looks. He's a bicycle cab driver/bedroom artist while Lou is a semi-successful cook/author who cares about his wife. Sarah Polley spends all this time making Margot out to be this emotional & complex woman. I don’t want to believe a person like her would leave her husband for such superficial reasons but that seems to be the case in the end. Is Sarah Polley trying to say that typical/traditional domestic happiness (what Margot & Lou had) is boring or mundane?
I also get the feeling that Sarah Polley wanted us to understand where Daniel was coming from too. Although almost all of the film is told from Margot's perspective, there's a couple of scenes in Take This Waltz that show how conflicted Daniel is with everything as well. His character is almost like Anthony Mackie in Half Nelson. He comes off so cool & nice that you almost forget he's kind of a snake. In my opinion, a character like Daniel doesn't deserve the luxury of being understood. He knew Margot was married but he still persisted. Basically, fuck that guy...
And to keep it real, Daniel isn't as good looking as I think he's supposed to be (no offense to actor Luke Kirby. You're far more handsome than me). But what do I know? I don't find men attractive so maybe there's something a straight female sees in him that I just don't. As my friend/past PINNLAND EMPIRE contributor Chris Funderberg jokingly put it - had the Luke character been Paul Walker (R.I.P.) it would have been somewhat understandable that Margot was so attracted to him.

On a side note, it is nice to see a female character leave their partner for such vein & superficial reasons. Male characters are almost always exclusively portrayed this way as if women are incapable being slightly shallow in terms of what they want in a partner. At no point in Take This Waltz is there a sex scene between Lou & Margot, yet towards the end of the film there's a sequence where Margot & Daniel try out almost every sexual position there is. This is something else that really pissed me off because it makes Lou look like an even bigger sap than he already is.
This is the kind of film that will separate the sexes (I'm well aware that my masculinity & manhood is the main driving force behind this review). If you go to rotten tomatoes you'll see that with the exception of two female critics, all of the bad reviews came from male critics while every other female critic gave it a positive review. Even one of the two female critics who gave it a bad review overall still had some positive things to say about it.
I have to give Sarah Polley serious credit for striking a chord with "average guys" like myself. Lets's be honest here - the average guy with relationship experience who has seen this film sees themselves in the Lou character more than Daniel (I'm sure a lot of guys wouldn't admit that, but it's true) so they're going to feel a certain kind of way as they watch the events unfold. All my male friends who've seen Take This Waltz dislike it, while the women I know who've see it tend to be more understanding to Margot's situation. I'm not even sure if Sarah Polley meant to strike such a personal chord with men, given this story is clearly geared towards women.
Daniel & Margot
I'm not denying that Margot is an unrealistic character or that people don’t leave their significant others for the wrong reasons. Plus, she learned her lesson at the end of the day (it's heavily implied towards the end of the film that she should have stayed with Lou). Margot was going through a stale/strange patch in her marriage and instead of working through it, she made a bad choice. But the tone of this film still suggests that we be concerned with her or care about her when we really shouldn’t. In my opinion, she really don’t deserve any kind of sympathy. When you think of all the characters in cinema that have left their partners for someone else, Margot doesn’t exactly fit that mold. The subconscious doesn’t allow us to be immediately frustrated with her and her actions.

Had the sexes been reversed in Take This Waltz, the male equivalent to Margot would have been labeled a scum bag no matter how sensitive they came off. I'm sure the average Jezebel reader is trying to come up with examples to debunk this theory, but face the facts - it's true.
We shouldn’t wish bad things on Margot or even hate her for what she did, but the somewhat lighthearted yet slightly upbeat ambiguous ending is clearly in her favor while Lou, who did nothing to deserve what he got, ends up alone in the end. 

Like I said earlier, Take This Waltz isn’t all bad. In my opinion, it has one of the best scores of the last few years and really makes some of the more bland scenes come off better than they should. Jonathan Goldsmith did an amazing job with the music. The swimming pool scene, and the few minutes that lead up to it, is one of the best isolated romantic moments I've seen in a film that doesn’t involve any kind of touching or kissing (it seriously evokes the spirit of the first sleep sequence from Soderbergh's Solaris). And for such a mish-mosh of actors, they all have pretty good chemistry with each other for the most part. Seth Rogen doesn't give a "tour de force" performance but we do see a different side of him than what we're used to (technically this is the best acting he's done so far in his career). But as far as the material he was given to work with, I really felt like the Lou character was the ultimate sap. When Margot leaves him, he's way too understanding & cool about everything (almost like Sarah Polley's father in Stories We Tell).
There's also a subplot in Take This Waltz concerning Margot's friend/Lou’s sister; "Geraldine" (Sarah Silverman) and her struggle with alcoholism that I thought was unnecessary. She could have been a supporting character without all the additional back-story even if it is minor.

I think if this was Sarah Polley's first film I wouldn't be as critical about it but Away From Her (Polley's first film) was so mature that this follow-up almost felt like a step backwards in terms of her exploration of marriage. Perhaps the reason Take This Waltz isn't as mature as Away From Her is because the characters in Waltz are in their late 20's and don't have the same experiences or level of maturity as our 70-something year old characters in Away From Her.

Even though I have some issues with Take This Waltz, I still suggest you all check it out (it's available on Netflix instant). This isn’t some run of the mil indie (I wouldn’t have taken the time to write about it if it was). Maybe there's things about this film I just didn't catch, or maybe  I'm just expecting more than I should from it. After all, I've never been married while Sarah Polley has. She briefly mentions her divorce in Stories We Tell. Due to the personal nature of all of her films, I'm sure there's pieces of her real life in Take This Waltz so perhaps I have no idea what I'm talking about...


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