Review: Take This Waltz (TIFF 2011)
PLOT: A married woman (Michelle Williams) falls in love with her new neighbor (Luke Kirby). Now, she must choose between her faithful husband (Seth Rogen) and a new life with someone she barely knows.
REVIEW: TAKE THIS WALTZ is a film I had wildly conflicting feelings about when watching it. For a good chunk of the movie, I positively loathed it, mostly due to the fact that I was rooting for Michelle Williams' character to stay with the solid, dependable Seth Rogen, rather than run off with Luke Kirby's flaky character. Kirby plays the quintessential idealized male love interest as often found in films like this. You know the type- a tortured artist living in a loft, who has a “quirky” job- here being a rickshaw driver (I didn't realize they were so common in Toronto, as in three years of attending this fest, I've never seen one), and of course, has a hip haircut and dresses well, while occasionally sprinkling in pop-culture references from the eighties. Ya know, a douche.
However, director Sarah Polley (a Canadian icon as an actress, who's quickly building up an even bigger career behind the camera, after her last film, AWAY FROM HER, was a critical smash) has a different goal in mind for the film than seemed obvious early on. For the majority of the running time, I thought that as an audience, we were supposed to want Williams to leave Rogen for Kirby. It becomes obvious later on that may not be the case, and it's the last twenty minutes of the film that really make it into something special. In fact, the last chunk is so wildly different than what I was expecting, it made me want to go back and re-watch the film, which isn't something I tend to do these days until years later.
Truth be told, even when I wasn't so keen on TAKE THIS WALTZ, I had to admit there were many good things about it. For one thing, Michelle Williams is excellent in the lead, playing a complicated woman, who genuinely loves her husband, and is kind and playful with him (with the two frequently engaging in baby-talk). She's not cold in the slightest, which was surprise, as I suppose her turn in BLUE VALENTINE made me somewhat prejudiced against her- which in hindsight is stupid, as, duh- she was acting (extremely well). While there are a few thematic similarities (both being about relationships in free-fall), this is still a wildly different, lighter ride.
Seth Rogen, in a risky departure, is excellent, although there isn't really any meat for him to chew on as an actor until the homestretch, with the film focusing more on Kirby and Williams' burgeoning relationship. Sarah Silverman's been getting a lot of buzz for her turn as Rogen's recovering alcoholic sister, and sure enough it's a brave performance (with her and Williams having a long, full-frontal nude scene together). Silverman also has, arguably, the best scene in the film toward the end, in her climatic confrontation with Williams.
Luke Kirby is the other major character, but I dunno, I wasn't all that taken with him. It's not that Kirby is bad, but his character, being this moody wannabe-artist, is so old-hat, and it's hard to sympathize with Williams as she falls for this guy.
For seventy percent of the movie, I was convinced I was just watching another indie “dramedy”, no different than HAPPYTHANKYOUMOREPLEASE, or other similar films, but then Polley, in a bold move, totally pulls the rug out from under you, and the film turns into something wildly different than what I was anticipating. This unconventional twist is intensely realistic, but at the same time is something that any compassionate viewer will understand. Suffice to say, it totally changed my opinion of the film, and after sitting on my review for a few hours, and chewing over the resolution, I’m convinced that Polley`s actually made a pretty damn extraordinary film.
Really, the only thing that keeps me from giving it a higher mark is due to some unfortunately hokey dialogue early in the film (where Williams admits to "being afraid of being afraid," which provoked groans in the audience I saw this with). Also, while I’m ninety percent sure that TAKE THIS WALTZ would suddenly become a much more profound experience the second time around, knowing the outcome in advance- I can’t really be sure until I watch it again. However, until that day comes, I have no problem giving this an easy recommendation. Just have a little patience. It takes a while to get where it’s going, but when it does you’ll see that it’s been a worthwhile journey.