Take This Waltz (2012)
Isn’t marriage grand?
Take This Waltz is about a charming young woman who’s married to a kind, loving man. While vacationing by her lonesome, she finds her path continually crossing with that of another young man. They exchange glances from across the way, wind up sitting next to each other on the flight back, and even split a taxi on the way home. She arrives at her destination, finally informs him that she’s married, and much to her surprise, discovers that he lives right across the street. One of them small world scenarios. Despite her love and devotion for her husband, she can’t get her neighbor off her mind. As for the neighbor, the feeling’s more than mutual. Their lives keep intersecting, so much so that he starts actively seeking her out. So as the temptation grows and the spark of her marriage begins to fizzle, she weighs her options of whether to stay with her man or go with the new guy.
It’s the latest jam by Sarah Polley, and the impression I get of Sarah Polley is that, for those who know her, she’s something of a living legend. Not counting the occasional mainstream turn in ditties like Dawn of the Dead and Splice, Polley’s fashioned herself into an indie force of nature over the years. I, for one, a more unfamiliar than I care to admit, but in handful of times I’ve seen her, she’s never ceased to impress. Really gotta check out her debut writing/directing effort, Away from Her, one of these days. Always heard good things.
Anyhow, here she is with her sophomore effort, and though it takes a while for her to find the right words, it’s nevertheless interesting to hear what she has to say.
From the outset, however, there’s not much about that synopsis that sounds like anything new. Married women have been striking up affairs and staying with/leaving their men for ages on the silver screen. If you’re secretly hoping that Keyser Soze’ll show up the end, you’re barking up the wrong tree, but as trite as the formula may be, there’s good reason why we keep coming back. Believe it or not, people get urges. Regardless of whether you’re married or not, it’s a universal, relatable story and one that’s hard to turn away from once the lure’s been cast. However, no one likes hearing the same story under a different name.
With that being said, the thing that separates Take This Waltz from other movies of its kind – at least for the first two Acts – is the marriage between Margot and Lou. For the most part, it’s an unusually true-to-life vision of what married life is actually like. Lots of inside jokes, lots of goofing around, and the stereotypical sex life that isn’t what it once was. Nevertheless, it’s a happy marriage, and it’s clear that Margot and Lou both love each other. But by the same token, there’s something very routine about their marriage, something that Margot uses to justify her flirtations and longing for something else.
Being a married man myself, watching the day-in and day-out of Margot and Lou’s relationship was far more interesting than any of her shenanigans with the hipster next door. It’s a marriage that’s clearly written and directed by someone who’s been there before, and it’s unlike any marriage I’ve really seen in a movie before, which is odd considering how realistic it is. Then again, word on the street is that no two marriages are alike. Still, it could have been the genuine article had Seth Rogen and Michelle Williams been a more convincing on-screen couple. Not to belittle their individual performances, ’cause I love me some Michelle Williams, and Rogen keeps proving himself as a welcome addition to dramas these days, but together, I just had a hard time buying it. Whether it’s their trivial arguments that felt more sudden than authentic, or their goofy natures that at times will make you gag, they almost seemed too comfortable around each other. It’s a strange kind of forced chemistry, and as realistic as the habits of their marriage may be, the downside is that it can be realistic to a fault. Way too PDA for me, even when they’re in private. You know the couple I’m talking about.
But like I said, the first two Acts are pretty much what you’d expect from this kind of picture. It’s all one big emotional lead-up to Margot making her big decision, and it works for what it is. Who’s she gonna choose? What’s she gonna do? You know the drill, it’s why we stay tuned. Not to say that the first two Acts aren’t without their merits, but there wasn’t much more than the desire to know what happens that was keeping me invested either. Let’s just say that had it not been for the final Act, this movie would have been pretty forgettable.
Given the element of surprise, there’s not much I can say about what actually happens in Act three. It’s actually ridiculous how little I can say, but I fear I’ve already said too much. They’re onto me. Kids, you’re just gonna have to see for yourselves But the wonderful thing about Act three is that it’s a major turning point for the movie as a whole. It’s the point where Sarah Polley starts saying something with her story instead of just furthering the whole “will she/won’t she?” thing that we’ve all been waiting for. It changes the movie entirely and brings this otherwise straightforward story to new, difficult to navigate depths that I never figured it would dare venture into. For a movie that feels so safe and predictable for so long, I was surprised and impressed with how Polley turned things around.
Since seeing it two weeks ago, I’ve had a hard time getting Take This Waltz of my mind. Didn’t dig its sense of humor, was only moderately invested in a majority of its story, and it’s certainly not my favorite movie of its kind. But it leaves you with a lot to work out and takes some worthwhile, unexpected steps towards ultimately telling a story that we haven’t heard before. The characters here, Margot especially, leave a lot for the viewer to sort out and come to terms with, and for any movie, regardless of how familiar it is, is a worthwhile accomplishment. I haven’t had the chance to talk about it with anyone else yet, but I’m guessing people will be pretty divided over how they feel about the path Margot goes down. At the very least, it’ll get you talking. Particularly interested to hear the reactions from all you bachelors and bachelorettes out there. Us married folk are jaded.
And one more thing: do girls actually have ho-hum, “don’t mind me” conversations with each other while soaping up in a public shower? I hesitate to believe that actually happens. The wife calls bullshit, and I’m with her on this one.