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Friday, July 6, 2012
Take This Waltz
Adventures In Fulfilling Her Idea Of
Michelle Williams as Margot in Sarah Polley's romantic drama "Take This Waltz".
Omar P.L. Moore/PopcornReel.com
Friday, July 6,
About the only thing wrong with
Sarah Polley's superb film "Take This Waltz" (which expanded its release today)
is its title. Something larger is at play metaphorically than a mere
dance, although throughout this mature, erotic romantic drama we see ankles,
arms, feet, legs and whole naked bodies in a beautiful array of physical
language that defines Ms. Polley's second feature directing effort (after the
fine debut "Away From Her" in 2007.) It's not until Leonard Cohen's song
-- from which "Take This Waltz" takes its title -- is heard late on that one
thoroughly understands the spiritual journey lead character Margot (brilliantly
played by Michelle Williams) takes in Canada, the director's and Mr. Cohen's
Margot isn't at a wedding but will marry and invest her mind, body and soul in a
film that wonderfully and intelligently executes the spiritual and physical
convergence of the three elements. Margot is married to Lou (Seth Rogen),
happily married in fact, but who can say that Margot's instant attraction to the
handsome, mysterious and muse-like Daniel (Luke Kirby) cannot upset (or enrich)
what is a good marriage? At the start "Take This Waltz" literally floats
high on air as Margot and Daniel are seated next to each other on an airplane.
She is reading. He is wondering. She notices him. He comments
about it. Their rapport is good. Their physical proximity sets the
stage for more. They share a cab from the airport. They live across
the street from each other. "I'm married," she declares shakily and with
regret. "That's too bad", he replies solemnly. Yet there's an
unspoken understanding that any obstacle between them is merely an opportunity
We've all felt that amazing, unmistakable gravitational pull towards someone:
the person you intuitively and instinctively realize you are meant to be with
and are powerfully and irresistibly attracted to. If you are already in a
marriage or other committed relationship as a human being you have an innate
fear and a natural curiosity about the situation. You are faced
with an uncomfortable quandary: can I do this? Do I dare? Can it
work? Can I take this chance? What about the consequences?
Margot embodies all of these questions, and Ms. Polley lays out some of the
Ms. Polley, who also wrote the film's perceptive screenplay, understands the
language these troubled but optimistic characters speak so well and creates an
environment for them that is open and unrestrained, even as some of the
characters and their circumstances are stifled. Early on "Take This Waltz"
has an incredibly suffocating feel and atmosphere. I felt as if I couldn't
breathe during much of the film's first forty minutes of tension and
anticipation but gradually the tone shifted, relaxed and relented, opening up
and letting in fresh air.
To watch and experience the intimate "Take This Waltz" is to witness a
undulation of consciousness, spiritual awareness and total being. Ms.
Polley's film is refreshingly adult, and one of the most honest, sensual and
intelligent films from North America I've seen about relationships in a while.
There's a verbally explicit and adult scene involving Margot and Daniel that
perfectly combines the physical with the spiritual -- a physicality and
frankness Margot has longed for, but there's a sincerity and purity in the
dialogue that is very tender and sweet. Ms. Williams is at her best during
this scene, a four-plus-minute exchange. It's a fine scene among many
other fine scenes.
"Take This Waltz" examines fate, connections, time and metaphysics the way
"The Tree Of
Life" examined the cosmos and the human connection to it. At
all times "Take This Waltz" is alive with feeling, beauty, tenderness, sex,
physicality, heat, light, bodies and the language of love and desire.
a quiet, reserved type, loves his wife Margot but is unable to appreciate or see
beyond the surface of their marriage. His limited perspective about their
relationship -- he's closed off emotionally and communicatively yet alive and
playful in other respects -- only reinforces the tension within Margot, a tension
that Ms. Polley as a director and Ms. Williams as an actor develop so well.
There's a 1940s feel to "Take This Waltz", a film about longing that echoes more
tragic, melancholic fare like David Lean's "Brief Encounter" (1945) yet remains
so original in other respects. Unlike the similar-themed 1999 film "A Walk
On The Moon" Ms. Polley's drama avoids stock characters and convenient
resolutions, evenhandedly exploring its peoples and landscapes with confidence.
I thought I knew where "Take This Waltz" was going -- in fact I was sure I knew
-- but I was proven wrong.
"Take This Waltz" isn't about what might have been ("Sliding Doors") but is
about what is right in the heart and soul, and how the future remains
plaintively alive in the present, taking on a semblance of bliss and epiphany in
those experiencing the intensity of love rather than fear and anguish. To
achieve the fulfillment and satisfy the temptation and attraction she's longed
for Margot literally and figuratively dips her toes in the waters, and there's
rebirth, cleansing and sensations. Water plays a key role in the film:
sometimes as a prank, other times as freedom.
Margot sees the future in the present, and in that sense she truly lives.
She's not a saint or a sinner as much as she is fully awake, aware and alive in
the moment, aware of an opportunity for total enrichment, fulfillment and
desire. Margot, who appears to have two selves cinematically, is
uncomfortable with being "in between things" (as is Daniel.) Her innate
fear is that she will be incomplete and unfulfilled, stuck in a purgatory that
offers a vanilla existence and nothing else.
Ms. Williams once again crafts an excellent performance as a woman who
internalizes her desires, tortures and torments herself, then allows herself to
entertain her heart and let go, to explore that place where her heart and
conscience leads. Rich and nuanced, her acting is bold and perceptive.
She mixes restraint, poise, curiosity and complexity. Ms. Williams never
gets ahead of Margot, and she's always searching for something new and different
as she achieves a feat of upper echelon acting.
One of the year's best films, "Take This Waltz" has a fearless, effervescent
feel. Sometimes it feels like a fantasy fun ride, and The Buggles' 1980s
song "Video Killed The Radio Star" helps highlight a transition from the old,
staid 1940s feel of Margot's marriage to the new and hopeful "now". "Take
This Waltz" floats on the glory and wonder of its own revelation of pleasures
and feelings, never apologizing for its ambition or genuine sense of discovery.
There's much excitement and little pretension on display, and Ms. Polley
enriches her film with colorful pallets, some darker, deeper and more earthy
than others. Its characters are uninhibited, and their full-frontal nudity
isn't gratuitous. A scene in a public shower is notable not for its nudity
but its sense of transition and contrast; a preview of what the future may or
may not hold for several characters. "Take This Waltz" is foremost about
transition in the self and evolution to a new physical and spiritual being.
In a short time as a feature film director, Ms. Polley, also a capable actress
("The Sweet Hereafter",
"Splice") has rendered excellent, sensitive
character portrayals of women whose senses or sense of opportunity have in some
way been truncated or compromised. In "Away From Her", Julie Christie's
character lived with Alzheimer's and estrangement from reality and her husband.
In "Take This Waltz" Margot is faced with choosing between connecting to a
deeper feeling of enrichment of her body and mind or living (or dying) trapped
in a solitary, isolated existence. Either way, there is a transition and
physical estrangement that is inevitable.
Sarah Silverman adds lightheartedness amidst some of the film's occasional
dourness and intensity as Geraldine, an alcoholic and friend of Margot's.
Geraldine's words, as often the case with a drunk on the big screen and in real
life, ring loudly with the bitter taste of truth serum, and her words liberate
us temporarily from Margot's journey. By the time "Take This Waltz" is
over we have ourselves been enriched, liberated and touched by an earnest
experience worth watching and savoring.
Also with: Jennifer Podemski.
"Take This Waltz" is rated
R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language, some strong sexual
content and graphic nudity. The film's
running time is one hour and 56 minutes.
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