Freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a cookbook author who specialises in inventive chicken recipes. Their relationship is cosy and tender, yet uninspiring and routine, though neither seem interested in confronting those marital issues that bubble under the silken surface. But, when Margot unexpectedly crosses paths with handsome neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a writing trip, her heart is pushed and pulled to the limit, eventually resulting in a decision that pits the prosaic against the newfangled.
Margot’s interest in Daniel stems not only from her subsiding marriage (his openness to life, love and sex is miles away from the almost blinkered view Lou has), but also from her own uncertainty and lack of understanding towards life and the feelings she has in general. This, at times, makes Take This Waltz difficult to invest in; a rom-com with all the familiar tropes and a distracting focus on metaphors to emphasise meaning.
However, writer and director Sarah Polley admirably never lets this stand for too long, infusing the screenplay with the right amount of warmth and humour that often subvert the pre-conceived cliches. The secretive bond Margot shares with Daniel is seen through short, often thorny bursts, and are more often than not rooted in the intellectual similarity they share (in turn, her relationship with Lou is far more playful and trusting). Polley allows Margot to indulge in her reckless abandon, but is never afraid to display the distressing guilt and psychical pain provoked by her yearning to abscond.
The strength of Take This Waltz unquestionably lies with Williams. Her performance as the unsure, attention-seeking Margot rings true, even if she does come across as frustratingly awkward, needy and naive at times. It’s an incredibly subtle performance that rests mostly on Williams’ ability to say more through sly looks and body language than with words. She strikes a fitting balance between silliness and affliction – a wondrous feat considering the amount of upset she’s causing to the people around her.
It’s a very natural performance, encapsulated in the brief moments of Margot’s complete abandon that allow us a truly authentic insight into who this character really is and what she wants (two waltzer-related scenes in particular immediately spring to mind). The film may be too lengthy and thwarting in the way it’s been edited together, but once the initial frustration has been overcome it enables for the emotional, coming-of-age midlife crossroads Margot has hit seem genuine – something Polley should be applauded for.
That’s not all Polley should be applauded for, however, as she has a terrific eye for how scenes should be constructed and played out and, through her intrepid desire to focus on Margot through thick and thin, has established a devastatingly honest and affecting tale of love and, more specifically, how people and they feelings they have for one another are constantly changing, regardless of the hurt it causes others. With that, and Luc Montpellier’s sublime cinematography that further fuels the already heightened emotions, Take This Waltz is able to rise above its scattering of aforementioned issues and leave a lasting impression.