Take This Waltz

Within the first ten minutes of this movie, I sighed to myself. Is Take This Waltz another Blue Valentine (sad but good) or Revolutionary Road (sad but bad)? Am I going to hate both of the people in the central relationship by the time this is over? The short answer is “sort of.” I hated the one who was cheating, and the one she was cheating with, but for some stupid reason, I still wanted them to get together. Gross. Michelle Williams’ character, Margot, is 100% unlikeable. She’s needy, childish, boring and selfish. She doesn’t seem to be particularly self-sufficient, either, always overly-doting on her husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), for the sole purpose of getting attention back from him. Somehow he’s whipped into the relationship, and doesn’t seem to be getting anything out of it. He comes out the hero of this movie, having done nothing wrong but ultimately (spoiler alert!) not having to deal with her crap anymore. And he’s got an interesting, albiet screwed up, family to fall back on. (I loved, LOVED Sarah Silverman as Geraldine, his alcoholic sister. Some of her best acting work, to the point that I wish there could have been a separate movie made focusing on her story. Oh, well.) Which brings me to that spoiler alert. Margot spends the whole movie pining after her neighbor, whom she meets happenstance, and emotionally cheats on Lou with him for a long time before getting physical. But her behavior demonstrates very graphically how emotional cheating is so much worse than physical. The way she behaves with Daniel (Luke Kirby) is so despicable, because right off the bat, you know it’s not innocent. You know that the “look but don’t touch” rule is not even applicable here, because they’re beyond the level of undressing each other with their eyes. You know that they’re going to end up together, and you want them to just hook up in order to put poor Lou out of his undeserved misery. This movie felt very much like a play, in that I think it might have benefitted from being performed on a stage. Though there were so many gorgeous shots — the way director Sarah Polley used light, for example, was incredible, because the movie was so brightly, yellowly collored, and yet so psychologically dark; the pool scene between Margot and Daniel was also very lush, and a very creative way of depicting chemistry between two characters — the dialogue was often simple and a little heavy-handed, which on film just makes actors look like they’re overdoing it. On stage, emoting is what it’s all about. Polley’s script had touches of Eugene O’Neill in it, which is definitely a compliment, but putting it in movie form simultaneously doused the story in melodrama. As I watched this movie, and became more and more disgusted with myself for wanting Margot and Daniel to get together, I kept trying to figure out why. What could possibly justify their relationship? Maybe nothing. Maybe that was Polley’s point: Some people are just bad eggs, who don’t necessarily go around ruining everyone’s lives — just a select few — and that’s it. Or maybe her point was that a lot of marriages are total shams, and that people stay together because they don’t know what else is out there, or they feel compelled to stay together, to fake it, because they want to outlast the other one, and they’re too comfortable to risk change. Margot’s restlessness was so palpable that I couldn’t resist feeling a little sorry for her, even though I didn’t like her at all. She’d reached a clear plateau in her life, at a relatively early age, and because she hadn’t yet experienced much (at 28), she wasn’t sure where to go. Enter handsome stranger, exit previous life. All of a sudden, through some external force, she figured out that she could change her entire image of herself. She could rediscover intimacy, she could find different things comfortable. She’d no longer have to eat chicken for every meal. (Lou was a chef and a chicken cookbook author, of course.) I didn’t love this movie, but I guess I appreciated where it was coming from. Couples are interesting subjects for movies, as evidenced by the other two I mentioned at the start of this post. If you get too granular with the details, you run the risk of the story being mundane or immensely sad. (In the case of Take This Waltz, it was more mundane. The pillow talk between Lou and Margot made me a little nauseous.) If you gloss over the details, you have a shitty, superficial romantic comedy. Somewhere inbetween is a good movie.