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Tuesday, September 4, 2012
Take This Waltz is an enormously impressive and accomplished film that I rather wish I’d never seen. It is a search for the hidden fault lines in a seemingly happy marriage and it keeps prodding away until it comes up with gaps to pry apart.
Kubrick and Allen explored similar themes in Eyes Wide Shut and Husbands and Wives, and Sarah Polley’s film is probably better than either of them, but it is still hard to love. It is like watching a public information film about the hidden dangers around your home – horror tales about how you can be struck down out of the blue by some faulty kettle wiring or unchecked fire alarm battery. It strips away all your security and comfort and replaces it with paranoia and fear. For weeks after you will find yourself worriedly scrutinising your other half’s behaviour for signs of discontent.
To male eyes, this is a film about a thoroughly decent bloke (Seth Rogen) who is married to an insecure woman (Michelle Williams) who will never really be content with him or anyone. Alternatively, it is the story of a bright, lively woman who begins to realise how unfulfilled she is in her amiable but unexciting marriage after a mildly flirtatious encounter with a man on a plane (Luke Kirby).
Their little exchange would have passed without consequence if she hadn’t discovered that they lived across the street from each other. It is a minor itch that doesn’t really need to be scratched, but it is an itch and the film is about whether she will give in to temptation.
There’s a lot of acting going on here. It’s occasionally a bit showy but often it glides into that area where acting becomes like real human behaviour and it is here that the film cuts deepest. It is particularly acute at portraying those moments when play fighting or insistent acts of affection become agitations.
Sarah Polley has been a screen actor since she was six and this is her second major film as a director (after Away From Her). There is a lazy temptation to pigeonhole her as an actor’s director but she also has considerable visual flair and moments in the film are incredibly graceful.
It is a strong cast but it is Williams’s show. Alongside Blue Valentine, it seems Williams is on a crusade to make films about the futility of relationships, in which the woman seems to be the chief cause of the break-up. Hard to believe she was Marilyn Monroe in her last film; here she looks mumsy and plain and the idea that she would contemplate bailing on a secure marriage gives the film its grim power.
TAKE THIS WALTZ (15)
Directed: Sarah Polley
Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sara Silverman and Jennifer Podemski
Length: 116 mins