"Williams steals the show in yet another superb performance..."
Michelle Williams is no stranger to cinematic studies of deteriorating marriages following her astounding performance in Blue Valentine last year - and now she returns reprising a somewhat similar role in Sarah Polley's naturalistic drama Take This Waltz.
Williams plays Margot - a seemingly happily married woman to spouse Lou (Seth Rogen), a benign and charming chef currently working on a chicken cookbook. However Margot's harmless flirting with stranger Daniel (Luke Kirby) when away on a business trip soon becomes a dangerous reality, when it transpires that Daniel just so happens to live across the road.
Temptation soon proves too much for Margot as she starts spending time with Daniel, not engaging in adulterous acts as such, but envisaging what her life with him could be like, and eventually, and somewhat inevitably, guilt kicks in as a result of her emotional infidelity. Margot is then presented with one of the most difficult decisions she has ever had to face - to stay with Lou and try to help bring back the spark in their slowly dissipating relationship - or to leave and start afresh with Daniel.
Looking past the opening ten minutes which is all a bit twee - Take This Waltz develops into a fine movie, a wonderful and deceptive study of human relations. Williams steals the show in yet another superb performance to add to an ever-increasing back catalogue of films. She just has this sadness and volatility in her eyes that can't really be expressed in words. Along with Blue Valentine, Take This Waltz is one of the most absorbing and painfully realistic pictures about marriage, and Williams is the common denominator, and the fact she appears in both brilliant films is certainly no coincidence.
Yet what makes Take This Waltz different to Blue Valentine, is that instead of having an equally as tragic husband such as the one that Ryan Gosling portrayed - instead we have Rogen, taking on a more playful role, adding some much needed comedy and light-relief to an otherwise affecting film. However in a sense, his innocence and accessibility makes the film all the more heartbreaking as we can't bear to see him hurt. Kirby on the other hand is also brilliant, doing a fine job of portraying the "other man" - someone we should detest, yet his charm doesn't allow us to - vital that this is the case as it means we can sympathise with Margot and comprehend the predicament she is in.
There are definite influences derived from old cinema and the likes of Jean Vigo's 1934 L'Atalante, a sentiment enhanced by the fact that on Lou and Margot's wedding anniversary they go to the cinema to watch Mon Oncle Antoine - a French language film also influenced by French new wave cinema, of which L'Atalante was a precursor. Vigo's masterpiece is also about a strained relationship that is put under threat by another man, interfering and offering the chance of something new, something unknown. The comparisons extend in that in L'Atalante the threat posed is by that of a peddler, whilst Daniel is a rickshaw driver. Polley also implements an underwater sequence between Margot and Daniel not too dissimilar to the now infamous and iconic scene in Vigo's classic.
One could argue that there is a lack of believability within the relationship between Margot and Daniel to justify it as the chemistry is mostly non-existent between the actors. However, Rogen and Williams are entirely plausible and the pair seem far more of a realistic couple. Although perhaps that's the point to it - the genuine relationship is the one Margot is already in, not the one she so desires. A poignant reminder that often the grass isn't always greener on the other side.
There is, however, one scene towards the latter end of the feature that really tarnishes the entire film. The said sequence is a progressive montage depicting Margot's life over a period of time, and the entire scene feels entirely out of place, almost as if Polley doesn't understand her own creation. It really devalues the film and every time I heap praise upon it, I feel obliged to mention this blip. It's almost as if Polley was off sick for the day so they got cover in the form of Michael Patrick King. It just gets it wrong.
That aside, Take This Waltz takes a simple premise and executes it masterfully, with a trio of brilliant performances from our protagonists, a strong script and promising direction, in a film that takes a fascinating look at life, love and fidelity - coming to some rather tragically pragmatic conclusions for all three.