Monday, July 9, 2012

Take This Waltz

Actress-turned-director Sarah Polley in 2006 made the lovely and fine "Away From Her," one of the small handful of worthwhile Alzheimer's movies. She aspires to the same rarefied air with "Take This Waltz," but in giving her characters the porcelain-doll treatment keeps them at a clinical remove, never allowing us to relate to them on a basic emotional level.

Michelle Williams plays Margot, seemingly a woman of leisure, living in Toronto with her cookbook-writer husband, Lou (Seth Rogen). They have no children and no pets and seem stuck in an extended adolescence in which they communicate in baby talk, he pours cold water over her in the shower (and she never figures it out), and they trade quips like, "I love you so much I want to mash your face with a meat grinder." (The effect of all this script on us is wearying.)

On a plane trip, Margot meet-cutes Daniel (Luke Kirby), a handsome pedicab driver who just happens to live across the street from her. (As the Church Lady would say, "How conveeenient!") They begin to meet clandestinely around town, sharing little more than moony gazes until Daniel delivers an X-rated, actorly monologue about what he would do to her if she weren't married.

Polley and Williams want us desperately to empathize with Margot's conflict. She loves her husband, though he doesn't always drop everything to indulge her clingy neediness. But let's cut to the chase: Kirby's a lot handsomer than Rogen, and without more meat on the bones of Daniel's character, that's really all we see. This makes Margot come off as mopey, selfish and passive-aggressive. You always get the sense that there's a great performance in Michelle Williams waiting to come out, but she still hasn't found it. To do so, she'll have to give more of herself, to forge a less intellectual and more direct connection with our hearts (and that may mean working with a director less brainy than Polley).

The most interesting line in "Take This Waltz" comes from a stranger, who, overhearing Margot talking with some girlfriends in the shower after an adult aquatics class, tells her that "the new gets old, too." Polley seems to understand this, but has only twenty minutes or so left after Margot leaves Lou for Daniel, and shows the gradual loosening of their bond in what amounts to a musical montage. She's got the structure inverted; that's just where a good movie might start.

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