Friday, July 6, 2012

Take This Waltz

Adventures In Fulfilling Her Idea Of Fulfillment

Michelle Williams as Margot in Sarah Polley's romantic drama "Take This Waltz". 
Magnolia Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, July 6, 2012

About the only thing wrong with Sarah Polley's superb film "Take This Waltz" (which expanded its release today) is its title.  Something larger is at play metaphorically than a mere dance, although throughout this mature, erotic romantic drama we see ankles, arms, feet, legs and whole naked bodies in a beautiful array of physical language that defines Ms. Polley's second feature directing effort (after the fine debut "Away From Her" in 2007.)  It's not until Leonard Cohen's song -- from which "Take This Waltz" takes its title -- is heard late on that one thoroughly understands the spiritual journey lead character Margot (brilliantly played by Michelle Williams) takes in Canada, the director's and Mr. Cohen's native country.

Margot isn't at a wedding but will marry and invest her mind, body and soul in a film that wonderfully and intelligently executes the spiritual and physical convergence of the three elements.  Margot is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), happily married in fact, but who can say that Margot's instant attraction to the handsome, mysterious and muse-like Daniel (Luke Kirby) cannot upset (or enrich) what is a good marriage?  At the start "Take This Waltz" literally floats high on air as Margot and Daniel are seated next to each other on an airplane.  She is reading.  He is wondering.  She notices him.  He comments about it.  Their rapport is good.  Their physical proximity sets the stage for more.  They share a cab from the airport.  They live across the street from each other.  "I'm married," she declares shakily and with regret.  "That's too bad", he replies solemnly.  Yet there's an unspoken understanding that any obstacle between them is merely an opportunity for togetherness. 

We've all felt that amazing, unmistakable gravitational pull towards someone: the person you intuitively and instinctively realize you are meant to be with and are powerfully and irresistibly attracted to.  If you are already in a marriage or other committed relationship as a human being you have an innate fear and a natural curiosity about the situation.  You are faced with an uncomfortable quandary: can I do this?  Do I dare?  Can it work?  Can I take this chance?  What about the consequences?  Margot embodies all of these questions, and Ms. Polley lays out some of the answers.

Ms. Polley, who also wrote the film's perceptive screenplay, understands the language these troubled but optimistic characters speak so well and creates an environment for them that is open and unrestrained, even as some of the characters and their circumstances are stifled.  Early on "Take This Waltz" has an incredibly suffocating feel and atmosphere.  I felt as if I couldn't breathe during much of the film's first forty minutes of tension and anticipation but gradually the tone shifted, relaxed and relented, opening up and letting in fresh air. 

To watch and experience the intimate "Take This Waltz" is to witness a undulation of consciousness, spiritual awareness and total being.  Ms. Polley's film is refreshingly adult, and one of the most honest, sensual and intelligent films from North America I've seen about relationships in a while.  There's a verbally explicit and adult scene involving Margot and Daniel that perfectly combines the physical with the spiritual -- a physicality and frankness Margot has longed for, but there's a sincerity and purity in the dialogue that is very tender and sweet.  Ms. Williams is at her best during this scene, a four-plus-minute exchange.  It's a fine scene among many other fine scenes.

"Take This Waltz" examines fate, connections, time and metaphysics the way "The Tree Of Life" examined the cosmos and the human connection to it.  At all times "Take This Waltz" is alive with feeling, beauty, tenderness, sex, physicality, heat, light, bodies and the language of love and desire. 

Lou, a quiet, reserved type, loves his wife Margot but is unable to appreciate or see beyond the surface of their marriage.  His limited perspective about their relationship -- he's closed off emotionally and communicatively yet alive and playful in other respects -- only reinforces the tension within Margot, a tension that Ms. Polley as a director and Ms. Williams as an actor develop so well. 

There's a 1940s feel to "Take This Waltz", a film about longing that echoes more tragic, melancholic fare like David Lean's "Brief Encounter" (1945) yet remains so original in other respects.  Unlike the similar-themed 1999 film "A Walk On The Moon" Ms. Polley's drama avoids stock characters and convenient resolutions, evenhandedly exploring its peoples and landscapes with confidence.  I thought I knew where "Take This Waltz" was going -- in fact I was sure I knew -- but I was proven wrong. 

"Take This Waltz" isn't about what might have been ("Sliding Doors") but is about what is right in the heart and soul, and how the future remains plaintively alive in the present, taking on a semblance of bliss and epiphany in those experiencing the intensity of love rather than fear and anguish.  To achieve the fulfillment and satisfy the temptation and attraction she's longed for Margot literally and figuratively dips her toes in the waters, and there's rebirth, cleansing and sensations.  Water plays a key role in the film: sometimes as a prank, other times as freedom. 

Margot sees the future in the present, and in that sense she truly lives.  She's not a saint or a sinner as much as she is fully awake, aware and alive in the moment, aware of an opportunity for total enrichment, fulfillment and desire.  Margot, who appears to have two selves cinematically, is uncomfortable with being "in between things" (as is Daniel.)  Her innate fear is that she will be incomplete and unfulfilled, stuck in a purgatory that offers a vanilla existence and nothing else.

Ms. Williams once again crafts an excellent performance as a woman who internalizes her desires, tortures and torments herself, then allows herself to entertain her heart and let go, to explore that place where her heart and conscience leads.  Rich and nuanced, her acting is bold and perceptive.  She mixes restraint, poise, curiosity and complexity.  Ms. Williams never gets ahead of Margot, and she's always searching for something new and different as she achieves a feat of upper echelon acting. 

One of the year's best films, "Take This Waltz" has a fearless, effervescent feel.  Sometimes it feels like a fantasy fun ride, and The Buggles' 1980s song "Video Killed The Radio Star" helps highlight a transition from the old, staid 1940s feel of Margot's marriage to the new and hopeful "now".  "Take This Waltz" floats on the glory and wonder of its own revelation of pleasures and feelings, never apologizing for its ambition or genuine sense of discovery.  There's much excitement and little pretension on display, and Ms. Polley enriches her film with colorful pallets, some darker, deeper and more earthy than others.  Its characters are uninhibited, and their full-frontal nudity isn't gratuitous.  A scene in a public shower is notable not for its nudity but its sense of transition and contrast; a preview of what the future may or may not hold for several characters.  "Take This Waltz" is foremost about transition in the self and evolution to a new physical and spiritual being. 

In a short time as a feature film director, Ms. Polley, also a capable actress ("The Sweet Hereafter", "Splice") has rendered excellent, sensitive character portrayals of women whose senses or sense of opportunity have in some way been truncated or compromised.  In "Away From Her", Julie Christie's character lived with Alzheimer's and estrangement from reality and her husband.  In "Take This Waltz" Margot is faced with choosing between connecting to a deeper feeling of enrichment of her body and mind or living (or dying) trapped in a solitary, isolated existence.  Either way, there is a transition and physical estrangement that is inevitable.

Sarah Silverman adds lightheartedness amidst some of the film's occasional dourness and intensity as Geraldine, an alcoholic and friend of Margot's.  Geraldine's words, as often the case with a drunk on the big screen and in real life, ring loudly with the bitter taste of truth serum, and her words liberate us temporarily from Margot's journey.  By the time "Take This Waltz" is over we have ourselves been enriched, liberated and touched by an earnest experience worth watching and savoring.

Also with: Jennifer Podemski.

"Take This Waltz" is rated R by the Motion Picture Association Of America for language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity.  The film's running time is one hour and 56 minutes. 

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