“You seem restless. In a kind of permanent way.”
The second best film of 2012, one that is destined to be largely overlooked but adored by the few who see it. Writer-director Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz hasn’t been courted by some people because its pegged as “just another marital infidelity movie.” Yes, it is about infidelity, but “Waltz” is about how even the thought and fleeting fantasy of sleeping with someone else can have a paralyzing power over you until the thoughts themselves become its own drug. Michelle Williams plays Margot, a woman who has probably been a very good person for 30 years of her life and then chooses one critical month to be bad. And she changes too radically all because of it. Williams is an actress who can play anything, a famous person or a common married woman, and every time she comes across absolutely spontaneous.
Taking place in Toronto and Nova Scotia Canada, Williams’ heroine Margot is married to an unromantic lug (Seth Rogen, in a non-sophomoric role for once). She becomes enchanted by a rickshaw driver (Luke Kirby) who talks to her in a way that every girl (supposedly) dreams of being talked to. His conversation is witty, incisive to subconscious feeling and peppered with sexual suggestion. She talks more to him in a way to see if he can keep up, but he’s well ahead at the finish line. Luke is waiting for Margot to catch up.
The erotic confession monologue fondly recalls Ingmar Bergman’s “Persona” (1966). Daniel, the crush, tells her how he would like – in a fantasy environment – kiss the top of her forehead. Then her eyelids. Feel her eyelashes flutter under his lips. Then slowly, lips brushing up… it proceeds to out-eroticize Penthouse Letters. Margot finally agrees to a just kiss… but 30-years from now. Marriage deserves at least that long before a faux pas.
It’s only days gone by until Margot can’t stand the idea of waiting that long, even though she brought it up. She lives in a cute little two-story house with husband Lou, the kind with multi-colored autumn paint and a few rickety drawers and cabinets. Lou isn’t a complete waste, he has a cook book on the horizon with a publishing house to back him. He doesn’t know how to come up with small talk at dinners with her, he kids around, (even rolls around on the floor) and is rarely sincere. But he does love her.
But being with Lou is like having a brother or a small child, the excitement of love never even found a rip-roaring plateau. When they kiss or make love, their contact lacks carnal bravado – they touch each other with kidding and jesting. More dopey than hot. That one track of lovemaking style becomes mechanical, one could say.
Margot can’t seem to fathom the idea that a good-looker like Daniel would ever flatter her. She hides behind ironic, hostile jokes at his expense – the kind that shields her from hurt, really, since she dishes out “blows.” She drops the hostile act, softens, and is liberated to talk sexy. Some wallflowers never talk sexy. But here, Margot is learning. Yes, it’s too bad she can’t learn to do that with her own husband.
“Take This Waltz” has the exactitude of real life and responsibilities converging with the urge of running off. An extraordinary circular shot towards the end brings everything into a new light. As it unfolds the passage of time, it in the most artfully brave way lays bare the euphoria of new love and how it can totally create a new persona from within (although new changes are often self-deceptive, and temporary at best). This masterful 360 shot by director Polley has the compositional bravado of Scorsese at his most risky (“Who’s That Knocking at My Door,” “The Age of Innocence”), and the paradoxical use of “Video Killed the Radio Star?” on the soundtrack is elementally haunting – a song Margot clings to it because it’s youthful.
We try to cling onto perfect memories in our lives. What Margot, and the rest of us, have to learn is that we cannot live forever clinging to a perfect memory nor can we manufacture moments that emulate perfection from before. We have to persevere along and look for new memories to create. Even if it takes work. And that’s done best shared with the one you’re married to. Marriage is a lifelong process of adaptation, if only Margot and Lou had learned.
Also with Sarah Silverman who accomplishes intriguing and surprising depth in a supporting role as Margot’s sister-in-law.
106 Minutes. Rated R.
ROMANTIC DRAMA / SEXY IMAGES / MASTERPIECE VIEWING FOR ANYTIME OF YEAR
Film Cousins: “Persona” (1966, Sweden); “The Age of Innocence” (1993); “Eyes Wide Shut” (1999); “In the Mood for Love” (2000, China).