You can get a sense of the tone of this film before you have even watched a single frame if you listen to the Leonard Cohen song of the same title. Sure enough the song ends up featuring prominently in the film- just in case you didn't make the connection. The film is melancholic, sullen and lustful- much like Cohen's lyrics: 'I want you, I want you, I want you…'
Set in a sun-drenched and bohemian town, Canadian director and writer Sarah Polley captures the struggles of love and lust through melted candy coloured hues and the juxtaposition of things that are new and old in indie romance, Take this Waltz.
This is not a romantic drama where the audience can predict the usual outcome of a central couple overcoming obstacles and reigniting their love. Instead, the idea of trying to fulfil life's indefinable and obscure gaps questions morality and fidelity and shows how people can become confused and tempted by newness even when they seemingly already have everything they wanted. Whilst there is a resolution of some sort for the characters it does leave a bittersweet taste for the audience.
Polley's second directorial feature introduces us to Margot played by the insanely sweet but rather melancholic Michelle Williams, a would-be writer living out the early years of a happy marriage whilst stifling an overwhelming sense of sadness whilst living with her cookery book-writing husband Lou played well by the hilarious and cuddly Seth Rogen.
Rogen plays reliable husband Lou. The creator of a '100 things to do with chicken'- cookbook, Lou represents homeliness, comfort, a lack of variety and to put it more clearly- a lack of sex. He's nice, comforting, and unadventurous. We see them in bed or in the kitchen where Margot attempts to seduce him only to bat away her advances leaving her rejected. Seen through the self-pitying perspective of Margot – he's the marital equivalent of chicken. The problem? Lou says it himself in one of the films many heavily loaded lines, "Margot OD'd on poultry a long time ago." Margot's temptations are tested when she meets and has an instant attraction to Daniel played by Luke Kirby who just happens to be her neighbour- could it be fate or a very awkward turn of events?
Polley's film is especially good at portraying the silly intimacies of marriage, an aspect of Take This Waltz sold so well by Williams and Rogen you truly feel that the characters have a history and a strong bond. Whilst Margot's delicate character obviously enjoys the affectionate ways of Lou she seems in need of sexual direction too. Margot and Lou's relationship is constructed solely from affectionate baby-talk, tickle fights and long-standing games, a universe away from Daniel's starring moment: a sexually explicit speech over Martinis that leaves Margot weak and breathless prompting her to swiftly leave.
Whilst Rogen and Williams' chemistry as a married couple is believable- they seem very in love in one way or another- sometimes the character of Lou's niceness makes the dynamic seem like Margot is just a friend- especially when contrasted with the sexually frustrated scenes between Margot and Daniel. This appears to be what Margot feels she is lacking, pure carnal lust and she finds it almost instantaneously with Daniel when they meet on a plane. They continue to meet accidentally on purpose throughout the film without any physical infidelity or accusation from Lou.
Take This Waltz has laughs too, Seth Rogen is still the funny man we know and love and great camera work, little dialogue and a beautiful summery colour palette provide a great deal of beauty. Not to mention the natural beauty of Michelle Williams.
Polley's camera captures intimacy, which is perfect, as the characters do not reveal very much at all through spoken word. There's an entrancing swimming pool scene between Margot and Daniel with them bonding underwater without words or touch. Also, the captivatingly wordless pair ride a fairground waltzer –another obvious reference to the title- the lights come on, the music stops and Margot and Daniel's heady experience suffers a rude awakening, when they are in a silent and desolate warehouse.
In theory the characters shouldn't be likeable, Margot gives up an idyllic set-up for a little bit of debauchery, Lou doesn't really fight for Margot and isn't even angry and Luke doesn't appear to try very hard to stay away from his married crush. Yet somehow the story is relatable and the characters are likeable. You want Margot and Lou to talk things over, and you can empathise with her desire to be seduced by Daniel. The characters are flawed which is always a good thing in my opinion as it adds a sense of realism that everyone can identify with. There is not an explanation for everyone's behaviour. No one's a cliché; no one speaks dialogue the viewer could have muttered a beat or two ahead of the movie; no one hews to a mode of behaviour fabricated to explain away his or her irrational ways. For example, Margot is 'afraid of being afraid' with no real reason provided as to why.
Although, a realistic portrayal of the complexities of love the film does lack realism in other ways. Due to the lack of dialogue we see no arguments, no professions of love and no apologies: it is all alluded to through glances and half-spoken conversations, which at times is a little frustrating.
A nude post-aqua aerobics shower juxtaposes lithe young bodies of Margot and her sister-in-laws with aged and worn bodies of old ladies from the pool, hammering in the film's insistent moral about new things getting old. The women are then discussing marriage and one of the elderly naked ladies pipes up stating: "New things get old". It's a message also picked up by Margot's recovering alcoholic sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), "Life has a gap in it," says Silverman's character- "…it just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic."
A beautiful film even if it is a little contrived and some of the metaphors are a little too literal. Perfect if you like 500 days of summer, Juno or any other indie flick that breaks the mould and leaves a bit to your own interpretation.