Despite the fact that Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz stars Seth Rogen and has a rather tedious trailer, it is actually a pleasure to watch. In fact, by the time I emerged from a dilapidated Picturehouse auditorium which can boast of only about twenty (threadbare) seats, I felt that I’d finally received the beautiful indie drama I’d hoped for in other films, including the disappointing Martha Marcy May Marlene.
Even the rather painful seating arrangements, exacerbated by a needlessly close armrest-hogging, mouth-breathing space-invader, failed to mar my enjoyment.
The film’s premise is at once more engaging and original than it first sounds. Michelle William’s protagonist Margot feels unfulfilled after five years married to Lou (Seth Rogen). This mundane start is given immediacy by the fateful meeting of Margot and Daniel (the underrated Luke Kirby) aboard a flight back to their hometown of Toronto. The attraction between them is instantaneous; as is Margot’s obvious guilt. Although the fact that Daniel lives directly opposite to Margot and Lou is a rather convenient coincidence, their proximity serves to increase the intensity of this moral dilemma as it develops.
Polley’s film is admirable both in its treatment of morality as well as its absorbing narrative. At no point does she either condone adultery or pass judgement on Margot’s character. Instead Take This Waltz becomes an intelligent exploration of a woman’s temptation away from her marriage. Impressive acting from all three leads builds solid drama far from the conventional treatment of love triangles found in romantic comedies; in Take This Waltz there is no clear-cut ‘bad guy’. As a member of the audience I felt just as torn as Margot – Polley presents her story without exerting much control as to where viewers’ sympathy should lie.
As well as Polley’s treatment of her subject, the film’s Canadian setting is refreshing. (For anyone wondering, as I was until the final montage, the title refers to a song by Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen). The most pleasant surprise of Take This Waltz is Seth Rogen’s performance as the often-mystified Lou. Here we see him actually act, albeit minimally, rather than beg for laughs like a second-rate stand-up at an open mic night. The story is also realistically fleshed out by the sub-plot of Lou’s alcoholic sister, played by Sarah Silverman.
Of course, no film is perfect, and Take This Waltz is no exception. Its most irritating flaw is the typically indie inclination to include long, lingering shots of the character’s feet (Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy is also guilty of this). Overall, the film could definitely stand some editing – lengthy and gratuitous nudity in a swimming pool shower is unnecessary, although the scene which precedes this demonstrates Polley’s ability to direct brilliant comedy as well as drama.
Prolonged running time aside, Take This Waltz is structurally pleasing without being arrogantly complex. However, some of the monologues suggest the script is a little too pleased with itself; Margot’s early admission that she is ‘afraid of being afraid’ aims for profound but sounds tired and clichéd.
Although at times agonizingly tense, Take This Waltz is a much easier watch than Michelle William’s 2010 performance in Blue Valentine, a grittier look at similar subject matter. Despite my nitpicking, Take This Waltz deserves its four stars and is worth a trip to Cowley when Oxford’s Ultimate Picture Palace re-opens in a few weeks.