Take This Waltz can be an initially deceptive film, because if a viewer is to only take the first five or so minutes of the film as a signifier of its larger concept, it could easily be dismissed as pretentious hipster filmmaking in which the filmmaker seems more intent on showing how great their vision is cinematically than what their story offers, however, once a person makes it through this initial bump the story explodes into something tragically real and soberingly poetic, never slowing down and constantly adding both ethereal and jarring imagery to study life in its most plain existence. It is no small task to make Michelle Williams look like a complete mess, yet a combination of realist techniques on the part of director Sarah Polley, as well as a commitment to a disheveled appearance both physically and emotionally on the part of Williams makes for one of her most honest and gut-wrenching performances since Blue Valentine. Like Blue Valentine, Take This Waltz does not attempt to offer an idyllic vision of human existence, although it certainly offers a considerably larger amount of moments in which life proves to be beautiful even if for a few fleeting seconds, almost always brought back to the jarring despair of reality. While I have not seen Polley's earlier work Away From Her, I hear many good things about it and cannot wait to investigate it in relation to this work. Take This Waltz demands its viewers to consider what sacrifice as an action truly means, allowing for this to serve both as a issue faced by characters within the narrative as well as the actors, who engage in actions in front of the camera that would not have been imaginable only a few years earlier, particularly some of the things pulled off by Sarah Silverman who delivers an excellent performance. As I come closer to watching enough movies to justify formulating my top ten list of 2012, I am quite certain that this film will make the list, in fact, as I look over some of the films I still have to view it seems quite impossible that this will be topped, although to be fair, I had no idea what I was going into with this work and that could prove similar for some films I have yet to watch. Also I am a sucker for well-executed cinematic references and the one tip of the hat to The 400 Blows is incredible.
Take This Waltz focuses almost entirely on the experiences of aspiring writer Margot (Michelle Williams) who is introduced to viewers as she is returning from a vacation to her hometown of Toronto, on the trip she meets a man named Daniel (Luke Kirby) whose agressive demeanor and cool attitude prove intriguing to Margot, so much so that a clear romance begins to emerge. Yet upon arrival home, even after the revelation that Kirby is her neighbor, Margot pushes Daniel away because she is married. It is only then that viewers are introduced to Margot's loving and stalwart husband the chicken chef Lou (Seth Rogen). Lou clearly loves Margot and wants the best for them both, although the ability of his recovering alcoholic sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) to have a child with no trouble clearly looms over him and affects the communication between himself and Margot. Matters are only made worse when Margot begins to secretly plan meetings with Daniel, who is receptive and actively attempts to get her to be unfaithful. Margot clearly desires to be with Daniel, but cannot stand the thought of betraying Lou who has been more than loving and not deserving of Margot's infidelity, as such Margot plans to meet Daniel in thirty years, in which case she believes that she will have been faithful long enough to earn a kiss. However, life does not prove that simple and due to part purpose and part chance Daniel keeps emerging into Margot's daily life, whether it be an accidental encounter that leads to both Margot and Lou riding in Daniel's rickshaw, or Daniel being invited to a house party by Lou who is oblivious to the entire ordeal. Racked with guilt, Margot finally admits to her feelings and leaves a defeated Lou to be with Daniel, yet as the narrative suggests even the newness and passion of her life with Daniel fades and repetition and normalcy emerge. In a sobering scene, both literally and metaphorically, Geraldine condemns Margot for her selfish actions and demands that she stop running away from her choices, leading to a closing scene of Margot enveloped in isolation, all of which is paired with the best use of "Video Killed The Radio Star" in a film ever.
Polley's film approaches the idea of infidelity, faithfulness and betrayal in one of the most honest and acceptable manners I have seen in a film to date, where as The Bridges of Madison County approached the problem of a woman questioning her unappreciated place in life, Take This Waltz does not afford the main character the outlet. She has no justification in her infidelity, because aside from simply marrying to early and falling out of love, her husband has done nothing to deserve her unfaithfullness, in fact, he is almost too aware of her desires and needs. The only serious argument they seem to have prior to her leaving is when he dismisses her advances while busy at work testing recipes, although viewers are quite aware that her sexual desires are likely an outlet from her tensely sexual conversation with Daniel only moments earlier. Margot cannot be condemned too heavily for her eventual leaving, because she is honest about her feelings towards Daniel and aside from spending time with him in a platonic way never actually acts upon them in a physical way, nonetheless, Lou is justified in his feelings of betrayal because while she has not cheated on him she has undermined and tossed away an unspoken agreement to stay together for as long as time allows, emphasized with a heightened sense of tragedy in the final water tossing scene. All of this blurring of viewers' notions of relationships makes it quite difficult to conceptualize the victim within the film, because while Lou is certainly getting a raw deal he cannot expect to force someone to stay with him that simply does not have their heart in the game, nor can Daniel or Margot be blamed for their desires because they emerge naturally and are not intended to be vindictive to Lou in any way. Polly, I would argue, seems to suggest that life makes victims of us when we cannot properly address situations the moment they emerge, especially when the consequences have dire effects on both individuals hearts and the relationships of those around them.
Key Scene: The initial amusement park ride scene is filmed with such cinematic beauty that when it comes to a jarring stop I felt my heart jump a bit, something I am far more used to experience during a scary movie, yet it is so tragic in this context that I could not help but react emotively.
This is yet another great film from last year going under the radar and it deserves all the love it can get, buy the bluray, or watch it on Netflix while you still can.