ADVANCE MOVIE REVIEW: Take This Waltz
TAKE THIS WALTZ-- 4 STARS
The shifting world of online content and streaming entertainment has created opportunities for movies to premiere "on-demand" either in advance or concurrently with their theatrical release. Tower Heist is the most high-profile release to recently go that route. In many ways, it's a pipeline worth taking advantage of. Last fall, I was able to watch Lars Von Trier's trippy and much-revered Melancholia via Amazon Instant Video weeks before it ever got close to a local movie theater in my neighborhood (and Chicago is big city). It was certainly nice to get an advance scoop on something new and provocative for about the same price (less in fact) as going to a downtown art-house theater, but watching it on a laptop just wasn't the same. Is this trend the beginning of the slow phase out of $12 movie theater tickets and overpriced popcorn in favor of your own couch, one price, and your own snacks that you don't have to sneak? Maybe, but let's hope not. In any case, I did enjoy the chance to see something more than a month in advance of a its theatrical release. Even press screenings aren't that early.
I recently was able to do that again with the upcoming new film Take This Waltz, the second feature film (after Away From Her) directed by actress Sarah Polley, who you may recognize from Go and Dawn of the Dead. The film skews to the independent market despite starring multiple Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, fellow headliner Seth Rogan, and popular comedienne Sarah Silverman. It premiered quietly at the Toronto Film Festival last year and is currently garnering an extremely strong 85% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Not arriving in theaters until June 29th as a force of Little Miss Sunshine-like and The Kids Are Alright-ish counter-programming among the summer special effects and blockbusters, Take This Waltz is being called brave, funny, sexy, delicate, honest, erotic, and moving. Let me just say, it is all of those things and more.
Michelle Williams plays Margo an obscure freelance writer married to Seth Rogan's Lou, a cookbook writer, and living in the Little Portugal neighborhood of Toronto. They are in their late twenties, coming up on five years of marriage together, have no children, and things are hit-or-miss with their chemistry. Margo and Lou definitely love one another but are sometimes victims to each other's bad moves, poor timing, and misread good intentions when it comes to intimacy. The largest contributing factor to all of that is Margo's fragile insecurity and connecting awkward behavior and pendulum emotions. She has a recovering alcoholic best friend (Sarah Silverman) that she confides in, but Lou is all she really has. Margo doesn't have to say anything to the camera for you to notice that she's not "normal," but Lou's goofy sweetness is the perfect foil for handling and containing those swings.
A chance shared encounter with a nearby neighbor (impressive newcomer Luke Kirby) she never noticed while out on assignment in Montreal throws the pendulum into scattered motion. Daniel's his name and they share a flight of fleeting introductory banter back to Toronto. In sharing a cab, Daniel turns out to be a reclusive artist that lives across the street from Margo and Lou. He's afraid to show his wares and gets by operating a rickshaw through the Toronto streets. Margo and Daniel begin to run into each other more often, make the efforts to hang out, and share shockingly honest repartee about their sizing each other up, judging one another, and what makes the other one tick. Unlike Lou, Daniel challenges Margo and her insecurities, something that both draws her closer and, at other times, pushes her away. She can't explain the growing connection, but her devotion to the wonderful Lou only muddles the water more. Margo is both torn and tempted at the same time and Lou obliviously just thinks of him as a new neighbor.
Take This Waltz isn't all about probing insecurities or lusting over the hot neighbor across the street. It's about what connections people choose to see through. It's bigger than the typical "woulda-coulda-shoulda" made-for-a-movie moment of clicking attraction and never falls the other way into soap opera melodrama either. Through many moments and shifts, the movie deftly plays out the difficulty Margo has between Lou and Daniel and delivers. Shot creatively and bathed in gorgeous natural light, indoors and outdoors, and director Sarah Polley gives the film a stunning realistic quality. Even though you're watching Toronto, Take This Waltz and the drama at hand could easily by your own neighborhood block at home.
Moreover, Michelle Williams sells and delivers every possible moment of every possible emotion in this movie. The rawness of Margo, the good, the bad, and the confused is on display constantly and the camera rarely leaves her. Those around her can only hope to compete and, at times, admirably do. Following the dramatic shading of his comedic roots on display in last year's brilliant 50/50 (his best performance to date, by far), Seth Rogan continues to impressively stretch his range in Take this Waltz and puts on a loveable and straight performance as Lou.
Canadian actor Luke Kirby nails what is necessary to keep up with Margo, but the weight of this movie is on Michelle Williams. Where her Oscar-nominated portrayal of Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn was as much imitation as it was uniquely challenging, Williams has methodically constructed a character so creatively layered and complicated here that you wonder how she did it. This role rivals her extremely difficult performance from Blue Valentine opposite Ryan Gosling two years ago. She continues to cement her considerable talent as one of the best young actresses of this generation. If Take This Waltz gains traction, put her down as an early Best Actress nominee for the Academy Awards. Few actresses could hit the highs and lows necessary for this part and Michelle conquers them with unabashed courage.
With performances like that, Take This Waltz doesn't disappoint on all of those aforementioned adjectives like funny, brave, moving, and honest. Polley takes our unofficial love triangle and gives it the right tone when necessary while still delivering some unexpected trapdoor twists. Even with a strict R-rating for strong sexual content and language, the comedy and a little bit of sweetness helps wash the impure thoughts down. Take This Waltz is one of the first Oscar-worthy movies of the year and an excellent challenge for a summer audience wrapped up in superheroes and explosions. If you feel brave, give it a strong look.
LESSON #1: SOMETIMES LIFE HAS GAPS-- This gem of a lesson stems from a monologue from Sarah Silverman's sidekick character and she has an excellent point. Not every waking moment of our life is meaningful, exciting, or fulfilling. There are some slow periods, voids, and times that feel lacking and behind compared to our peaks. We constantly seek to fill those gaps and keep things enlivened and active, but... see Lesson #2.
LESSON #2: NEW THINGS BECOME OLD AFTER TIME-- To demonstrate the real frankness (and R-rating) of where the golden nuggets of Take This Waltz sometimes come from, this follow-up to Lesson #1 comes from a discussion of mature naked women in a shower after a water aerobics class. For as much as we long to fill those previously mentioned gaps and find new excitements and catalysts in life, we don't commonly realize that "new" things are destined to become the next "old" things. That new car or new love might seem glossy and shiny now, but that luster wears off.
LESSON #3: THERE ARE DECISIONS THAT YOU CAN'T GO BACK ON-- When taking in Lesson #1 and Lesson #2, you will get to a decision point. A gap will be present and a "new" thing will look like the perfect solution in the moment. However, decisions that come from these moments and this kind of build-up have strong ramifications, behind the "woulda-shoulda-coulda" of if things were different or if times were different. These decisions are the "life-changing" ones that have "no turning back" written all over them. You've gone past the "test drive" or "just this one time" and you must live with the consequences or end result.