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Review: Take this Waltz

August 15, 2012

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Written and directed by former actress Sarah Polley, Take This Waltz borrows its title from the Leonard Cohen track of the same name, itself a loose translation of the Spanish poem Pequeño Vals Vienés by Frederico Garcia Lorc, in which he depicts his doomed relationship with Salvador Dalí.

The film tells the story of Margot (Michelle Williams) a 28-year-old writer, who is simultaneously besotted, yet stuck in a rut with her husband of five years, poultry-obsessed cookbook author, Lou (Seth Rogen). On meeting the smouldering, enigmatic Daniel (Luke Kirby), a rickshaw driver and artist who ever-so-coincidentally happens to live a stone’s throw away from her, sparks fly, and their attraction develops over a scorching hot Toronto summer.

Audiences might immediately assume that the doomed relationship in question here is surely the marriage of Margot and Lou, but, despite its high-profile cast, this irresistible indie flick thankfully does not adhere to the tired “woman-trapped-in-unhappy-marriage” Hollywood trope.

As is the case in real life, things are not nearly so clear cut here: for one thing there is no “bad guy”: Lou is a doting, loving husband, and Margot, although profoundly conflicted, is equally adoring. The intimacy of a couple in a long-term relationship is wonderfully observed by Polley, who skillfully interjects the mundanity of their everyday lives with in-jokes and baby talk that might induce cringes and shudders if it weren’t so convincing and authentic.

They have a close to perfect set-up but, with their play-fights and childlike co-dependence, their relationship is bordering on asexual, often infantile in nature, and slightly reminiscent of a brother-sister dynamic at times. Meanwhile, the chemistry raging between Margot and Daniel is palpable. Life with Lou is stable and loving, but frustratingly predictable and tedious, unlike Daniel who’s shiny, new and boundlessly exciting by comparison.

A full frontal nude scene in a communal gym shower shows Margot and her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) completely naked – as one is prone to be in the shower: we’re talking breasts, nipples and – shock horror – pubic hair. Discussing relationships, they wash alongside a group of women of all different ages, sizes and colour, sporting ample bellies of various sizes, sagging breasts and wobbling bottoms. One wise old sage helpfully articulates Polley’s message as she bends down to lather herself up: “The new becomes old”.

Hollywood directors, please take note: instead of feeling voyeuristic, erotic or repulsive, female nudity, under the direction of Polley, is rightfully portrayed as a natural and simple everyday occurrence – male gaze be gone!

The scene also acts as an interesting juxtaposition to an intense erotic monologue Daniel astounds Margot with. Against all odds, the two characters somehow manage to remain fully dressed for the duration, while it was all I could do not to rip my clothes off, claw at the screen and rub my face against his. When Daniel finishes (so to speak), and Margot half-jokes that she needs to go and clean herself up, I got the sense that the entire cinema was silently echoing her sentiments wholeheartedly.

The film isn’t entirely without fault – Polley is needlessly heavy-handed with some of her metaphors: when Margot confesses she’s scared of flying, or, more precisely, of missing connecting flights – ah yes, that all-pervasive and totally common phobia, the audience nods sympathetically – she adds, “I’m afraid of connections”, with a forceful emphasis, double underlining this point. I almost expected to catch her glancing conspiratorially into the camera as the words “fear” and “intimacy” pinged up on screen Sesame Street-style.

Nevertheless, this beautifully shot, bittersweet film is moving, thoughtful, humourous and nuanced, with Michelle Williams, as a fragile yet spirited woman, delivering a powerful and compelling performance.

In defining Margot’s scent, Daniel inadvertently sums up the entire film when he describes it as the perfect combination “of sweetness and fuck”.

Katie Grant.