After her glamorous turn as Marilyn Monroe in My Week With Marilyn, Michelle Williams has firmly left the heady heights of fame behind her and returned to the monotony of everyday life for her latest role in Take This Waltz. But even though the film sees Williams play a part we readily associate with her work, it’s hard to draw comparisons between Margot and her heart-wrenching performance as Cindy in Blue Valentine.
Margot may be ‘normal,’ plain (or Williams‘ attempt at ’unexceptional,’ that is), and disillusioned by her marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen), but whereas we witness the total disintegration of a relationship in Blue Valentine, in Take This Waltz the misery of a breakup, and the emptiness of an unfulfilled life, is offset by Margot’s infatuation with her neighbour, Daniel (Luke Kirby).
Margot and Daniel meet on a trip to Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, where our freelance writer protagonist is researching the town’s Fortress for a new tourist pamphlet. Seated together on the flight home, they strike up a flirtatious and fun conversation, not realising they are neighbours. During their shared taxi-ride home, however, Daniel reveals he can walk home from Margot’s house – and just as they pull up on her driveway, both of their secrets emerge: not only is Margot married, but Daniel lives in the flat opposite her marital home.
Margot and Lou seem happily in love – and almost sickeningly so. With a running joke about the pain they want to inflict upon one another as a test of their affection (gauging eyes with melon ballers, and shaving skin with carrot peelers), as well as more whispers of ‘I wuv you’ than we care to count, it’s clear they’re still deeply passionate about one another after five years of marriage.
However they will never share what Margot starts to experience with her artistic neighbour. Unbeknownst to Lou, she and Daniel regularly steal away for a few hours together, and their connection grows and grows. But Margot rejects any physical entanglement outside of her marriage – even though there is more sexual tension between them than her marriage’s puppy love could ever muster.
And this is the largest failing of Take This Waltz, for while the themes of fulfilment and settling are daunting and serious, their treatment in the film is whimsical and almost fantastical. At times, Daniel appears to be an illusive invention of Margot’s unsatisfied unconscious. As the two twist and turn together in a twilight-lit pool, and later spin dizzyingly on an underground fairground ride, surrounded by brightly coloured lights, there is something beautifully surreal and satisfying about their idealised love.
But it all seems so unreal and pointless. Lou and Daniel both have underdeveloped characters with inconsequential jobs, and even though they are definitely ‘real’ people, Margot’s world often seems unbelievable and insignificant. There is so much potential for exploring her apparent fantasies and daydreams, as these sequences could harness real emotive power, but they are left entirely unexplored as her daily reality.
What’s more, the break-up sequences are almost non-existent, and while the film lightly nudges the heartstrings, it never pulls them. The performances are solid, though, and it’s wonderful to see Sarah Silverman and Rogen take on roles with a little more gravity. Unfortunately, however, there is just an overwhelming lightness and triviality to the film which undermines the supposed unknowing angst of Margot’s infidelity, and the suffering of those around her.
Having said this, Take This Waltz does have some funny moments, a wonderful soundtrack, and a few stand-out sequences that showcase the incredible talent of its cast, and potential of second-time director Sarah Polley. But it is far from outstanding. Fans of Williams will not be disappointed by the star’s performance, however if you are looking for wholehearted laughs, or an unmistakable tear-jerker, Take This Waltz sadly lies somewhere in between. The questions it raises about love, life and contentment are thought-provoking and honest, but it left us feeling like we needed to consider them more deeply than the film had even dared to attempt.
Written By: Jade Turner