There’s a permanent glow to each of the characters of Take This Waltz, the second film from Canadian actress-turned-writer/director/producer Sarah Polley. That could be due to its setting in a Toronto summer, or it could be caused by the pressures — whether marital, sexual, or emotional — building within each of the characters as they navigate the pleasures of old love and new love.
Beautifully shot in a palette of primary colors, the film opens when Margo (Michelle Williams) meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) accidentally at a French Canadian fort. They later find themselves seated next to each other on the flight back to Toronto, striking up a fairly deep conversation for what is probably a short airplane ride. When they share a cab home, Margo finally reveals that she’s married — though shouldn’t Daniel have noticed a ring? — and Daniel, an artist and rickshaw runner, reveals that he lives right across the street from her.
Now home, Margo commences baby talk with her husband Lou (Seth Rogen). Their relationship seems exclusively based on cloying inside jokes, little games they play in bed or in their kitchen, where Lou spends most of his time crafting recipes for a chicken-centric cookbook. Meanwhile, Margo stays upstairs writing travel brochures. The couple is fairly young (Margo’s 28) but has been married for a significant amount of time (five years). It’s possible they built their relationship solely on youthful infatuation, the kind of instant lust that Margo is now feeling for Daniel.
We only see these partners leave the house together once, but with Daniel, Margo explores the outside world. More happens between Margo and Daniel in the moments when they sit together silently than is ever shown between her and her husband, but it might just be the tricky contrast between the sweet anticipation of something different or the dull solace of something familiar, as Margo’s recovering alcoholic sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) points out in a post-water aerobics full-frontal shower scene. It’s a painful juxtaposition between this seductive possibility and the flat comfort of a long-term relationship. And soon, for Margo, the pressures that weigh on her aren’t really about needing to choose between two men. It’s about having to hurt someone she loves, no matter what kind of love that is.
There’s a lot of heavy-handed foreshadowing in Take This Waltz, from Margo reluctantly whipping a colonial prisoner-actor for adultery in the film’s opening minutes to the lyrics of the Buggles “Video Killed the Radio Star,” played during an especially flirtatious scene. Pretty soon it’s obvious the outcome, whatever it may be, won’t be simple. Margo can stay with her husband and possibly be unhappy for the rest of her life. Or she can break his heart, run away with the pedicab driver-artist, and still possibly be unhappy for the rest of her life. Unfortunately for Lou, the way the relationships are presented, you really hope for the latter.
Williams is as lovely as she always is, even if her dilemma comes off as a bit Dawson’s Creek at times. Not surprisingly, Rogen and Silverman do pleasant, toned-down versions of their public personas, but Kirby is the real treat here. He has a realistic sex appeal that’s not often found among the bodacious babes of male Hollywood, and the way he talks to and looks at Margo would make any girl swoon. In the movie’s sexiest scene, when Margo asks Daniel to tell her what he’d “do to her,” the soft way he describes their potential lovemaking, even at its filthiest moments, is still sweeter and sultrier than Margo’s physical sex scene with one of the men later in the film. In Take This Waltz, you’re not going to root for Lou, and you’re not even going to root for Margo, but for Daniel, with his adoring gazes and effortless joie de vivre.
But really, everyone’s a loser here.
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