21 August 2012


Though it may not be a comparison that casts it in the best light, I was reminded of Blue Valentine while watching Take This Waltz. I'd like to think it was down to more than the presence of Michelle Williams, who is once again playing one half of a couple whose marriage is on the verge of disintegrating. Given how her screen spouse is Seth Rogen, rather than a balding Ryan Gosling, it seems like a strangely more amiable film, but just as heartbreaking in the right light.

Williams and Rogen are Margot and Lou, a freelance journalist and the budding author of a cookbook dealing exclusively in chicken dishes. Upping the quirk-o-meter is the arrival of Daniel, an artist who Margot sits next to on a plane for one unforgettable afternoon. Little does she know that in addition to his infuriating propensity for inventing words and hauling a rickshaw around, he happens to live across the street. While she is determined to be faithful to Lou, the excitement of Daniel may prove to be too much of a temptation for Margot.

It's more than a little mumbly, of course, but this is one of the less irritating films on the mumblecore scale, with a couple of glaring exceptions. Daniel, played by Luke Kirby, is entirely as irritating as he sounds in the plot summary above. Margot's attraction to him just shouldn't work, (more on why it does later) but then he is one of those handsome, broodingly sensitive and emotionally domineering blokes that have become so popular in the last few years. Think of Edward Cullen, but with a lexicon of irritating portmanteaus that he constantly seems to be explaining in the first half of the movie.

I'm sure it makes me quite the beta male, to have ever despaired about how Margot could possibly be attracted to this bumbox over the dependability of Seth Rogen and chicken. These are two things I really like, (even if I wouldn't really like to sleep with them) so why would she ever stray? But the real revelation is in the weird anti-chemistry that Rogen and Williams build so successfully. They're given to weird little games with each other to pass the time, seeing as how they don't truly excite one another any more, but the tension remains palpable. One innocuous word or action from one of them can so easily offend the other.

For all of my complaints about Daniel, I suppose it would've been worse if she was sloping off to see Jonah Hill or Ben Stiller, both of whom have proven too easily subsumed in mumblecore delivery, with "naturalistic" acting standing in for personality or likeability. In this even-handed portrayal of an imploding relationship, writer-director Sarah Polley doesn't presume to judge the complexities of their behaviour, but with her background in acting, she manages to get Rogen and Williams to commit. In particular, I found Rogen to be more understated than we've ever known him, but he still rouses as much sympathy as Williams.

I'm not sure who keeps casting Michelle Williams in roles where she looks like her heart is about to break at any given moment, but they're not wrong to do so. Like Carey Mulligan and only a couple of actresses, she can do that whole sudden crying thing in a way that really tugs at my heartstrings every time. The film's victory is in keeping both parties sympathetic, even while Margot is still the protagonist, and even while Daniel's every move seemed to infuriate me. I'm fairly sure that was down to the overload of quirk, but I'll not dismiss the possibility that I wanted the marriage to succeed in spite of all their issues.

Take This Waltz runs with the theme that "new things get old" in a way that a more upbeat, or even a more mainstream romantic drama could not. It makes a couple of missteps along the way, but I've found that the better films of this nature tend to be directed by actors, who can direct actors to be natural, and to inhabit everyday characters more fully than most recognisable stars than manage, rather than by directors so aloof and pretentious that you get a film about a human relationship that might as well have been directed by a deer. Polley does great work with Rogen and Williams, even if the use of visual metaphor is a bit heavy handed, and the running time feels padded out by Instagrammed music montages.

Take This Waltz is now showing in selected cinemas nationwide.
If you've seen Take This Waltz, why not share your comments below? Also, go out and buy Seth Rogen's chicken cookbook- as likeable as he is, there's no other point in this film where he looks happier than he does on the cover of that book.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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