Take This Waltz

We applaud when women in the movies are strong, self-assured and dealing with problems the best they can. But they can’t all be headstrong and confident. Surely some of them are immature and even destructive.

Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” is an admirable attempt to paint such a woman, but its ideas feel vague and uncertain, and its lead character Margo feels strange and unbelievable, even with one of today’s best and most relatable actresses at the helm, Michelle Williams.

We meet Margo on a plane ride home after a business trip, where she’s just met a handsome, but somehow cocky guy named Daniel (Luke Kirby). They talk on the plane and share a cab, and it turns out he lives quite literally across the street from Margo. This is already too good to be true, so as she’s about to leave the cab, she says, “I’m married.” This is the sort of thing you say when you’ve at least thought of sleeping with someone, but it goes against your better judgment.

And it’s a good thing, because Margo is in a fairly happy marriage with the loveable Lou, played by the equally loveable Seth Rogen. The two whisper abusive sweet nothings to one another in bed for fun (“I’m going to skin you alive with a potato peeler,” “I bought a melon baller and want to gauge your eyes out”), which is weird. They seem happy, but without warning she’ll become distant to his games, and of course she hasn’t stopped flirting with that guy across the street (he’s got some violent imagery played off as romantic too).

Margo’s problem is oddly specific. It’s a fear of being afraid. She doesn’t like to “be in-between things.” It takes her the whole movie to figure out that not all of life is full of action, which is fine, but the number of problems caused in her life because of this insecurity makes you wonder if Margo is really just unhealthy. Daniel annoys her at times, but she can’t tell him to screw off, nor just screw him. She won’t address the problems with her husband, but she won’t leave him either.

What does she want? I don’t think she knows. Maybe that’s intentional, but for a while it doesn’t seem like the movie knows either, and for how much we like Lou, audiences may get uncomfortable at Polley over-stylizing these moments of emotional adultery. We see Margo and Daniel swimming elegantly in a glistening indoor pool, their sex scene is dizzyingly erotic and her carnival ride with Daniel to the tune “Video Killed the Radio Star” makes you wonder why she doesn’t have more moments like that with her loving husband.

2 ½ stars

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