Tuesday, 28 August 2012

'Take This Waltz': review

Rarely does a film slip so frequently, or so drastically, between infuriating and sublime as Sarah Polley's 'Take This Waltz'. It's typified as much by tortured metaphors and on-the-nose production design as it is by moments of heartbreaking honesty and dazzling vision. Several isolated scenes are perfectly judged, by the the cast and by Polley behind the camera, though just as many demand derision - notably an early exchange in which Michelle Williams foreshadows her fear of the uncertainty wrought by ending her marriage by describing her unease of being "in between things" during airport connections. The metaphor itself isn't miserable, but no room is left for interpretation or reflection and it gets worse when the same metaphor is picked up - and again discussed in detail - later on.

Though there are just as many great moments, the best involving Seth Rogen, as Williams' husband, and his myriad of emotional responses to the inevitable end of his marriage, including a tear-jerking reveal concerning a "long-term joke". Comic Sarah Silverman also turns in a credible dramatic performance as Rogen's alcoholic sister, though Williams' handsome extra-marital love interest is certainly the film's weak link, as played by Luke Kirby. But this is, for the most part, a showcase for Williams' significant acting talents and it is she who carries the film for the most part, with the other three principal cast members operating in her orbit.

Perhaps best of all is the judgement free way Polley, who also wrote the screenplay, depicts the end of a marriage where neither party has done anything particularly wrong. It's suggested that Rogen's guileless husband has neglected his wife sexually and that there relationship has became comfortable at the expense of excitement, yet overall the end of his marriage is tragic because it comes without much obvious cause. It's also complicated by the idea that, perhaps, Williams will live to regret her decision at some point in the future. Williams wants to be able to feel that early excitement again with somebody and knows she cannot rekindle that with her husband (however much she tries), but that's it: they still basically love each other. Whether she will ever be as comfortable with Kirby, we shall never know, though it's implied that both options may ultimately lead to the same bitter-sweet place.

Whether or not the decision to leave her husband is worth the gamble is the ultimate question posed by 'Take This Waltz', and happily it isn't anywhere near as flippantly 'Dead Poet's Society' as its title may suggest. Whether or not Williams embraces her impulses and takes life's confusing, emotionally turbulent, uncertain invitation to dance, Polley's film is smart enough, and sensitive enough, to make us question that desire and identify with the character's most prosaic, a-romantic concerns.

'Take This Waltz' is out now in the UK, rated '15' by the BBFC.

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