Blue again – Take This Waltz review

Take This Waltz – Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Luke Kirby. Directed by Sarah Polley. Rated MA. By Simon Miraudo.

Michelle Williams should surely be crowned the Queen of Cursed Cinematic Courtships, having endured break-up after devastating break-up in her finest features; Blue Valentine, Synecdoche, New York, and Brokeback Mountain. If that weren’t enough, she starred as famed lovelorn starlet Ms. Monroe in My Week with Marilyn, and met a dark fate as Leonardo DiCaprio‘s disturbed wife in Shutter Island. With Sarah Polley‘s Take This Waltz, she takes on the role of a sweet young bride with an even sweeter husband (Seth Rogen); but not even her affection for him can subdue her burning passion for the neighbour across the street (Luke Kirby). We know where this is heading, if only because her name is above the title. Michelle Williams doesn’t carve notches on her bedpost; she inscribes Morrissey lyrics.

If Polley’s second effort as writer and director – following 2007’s Oscar-nominated Away From Her – works at all, it’s thanks to Williams’ performance, and that of her offsiders Rogen and Kirby. They are subtly superb. That being said, Take This Waltz doesn’t really work that much. The screenplay blares its themes early on, with Williams’ freelance writer Margot admitting to handsome stranger Daniel (Kirby) that she’s afraid of ‘connections’. Now, she’s referring to connections between terminals at airports, but it’s blindingly obvious that this is a metaphor; we couldn’t know that more unless a footnote had literally appeared on the screen declaring it so. Later on, once she’s discovered the stranger actually lives next door and entertains the idea of running away with him, the ‘connection’ line is thrown back in her face. She can’t decide between the mysterious artist and her kindly, sexless husband Lou. Her inability to connect is meant to be a revelation. It is a revelation only to people who have never seen a film before.

That is perhaps the issue here: Take This Waltz always feels like a movie. Sometimes that’s fine, but in this instance it certainly doesn’t help us to connect to the small-stakes emotional wrangling of its subjects. Polley employs some interesting visual tricks with the camera, but it doesn’t exactly help to ground the actions of its occasionally frustrating and infantile protagonist. Meanwhile, every line feels specifically calibrated to go against our expectations of what characters in these scenarios would do or say. It eschews cliché and naturalism, and instead winds up a weird hybrid of the two. No matter the deep truths Polley wrestles with (and which we glimpse briefly in the simple and affecting scenes between Williams and Rogen), this is no slice of reality. It’s about a woman who pens tourism brochures, married to an ultra-passive cookbook author, with a crush on a rickshaw driver, living in Little Portugal, Toronto. They say specificity is the key to connecting with general audiences, but this just feels like a Mad Libs version of Blue Valentine, played by hipsters.

Sarah Silverman pops up sporadically as Lou’s alcoholic sister, ten months on the wagon. At the end of the picture, in the most unlikely and inappropriate of circumstances, she delivers another of the film’s “This Is What The Movie Is Really About” monologues. It reeks of superficiality, embedded  between occasional moments of sincerity, humour, and heartbreak. So in a way, it really is an accurate representation of ‘What the Movie is Really About.’

2.5/5

Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Take This Waltz arrives in Australian cinemas June 14, 2012.

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