Written and Directed by Sarah Polley (Away From Her) Take this Waltz pits two contrasting images of love against one another; the comfort, security and companionship of a loving marriage versus the excitement and danger of a passionate affair. Michelle Williams stars as the melancholic housewife Margot in a happy but ultimately unfulfilling marriage to Lou (Seth Rogan in a debut dramatic role).
While Margot works intermittently writing travel brochures, Lou spends most days working on recipes for his chicken cookbook. With the exception of occasional visits from Lou’s eccentric family, both are suspended in a picture of contented but monotonous domestic harmony. Their marriage is virtually sexless and in the absence of romance, the chemistry between them is governed by a jocular familiarity.
When a chance encounter with attractive neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby) gives Margot a glimpse of the life of passion she craves, the stage is set for moral turmoil as Margot struggles to reconcile marital fidelity with the heady temptation of an illicit affair.
But Lady Chatterley’s Lover this is not, and those expecting soft focus, lust-fueled trysts should look elsewhere. Take this Waltz examines the well-worn theme of adultery on a cerebral level, carefully deconstructing the layers of longing, fantasy and self-delusion that lie beneath the surface. Filming in her home town of Little Portugal, Toronto, Polley uses setting expertly to convey Margot’s emotional conflict – the hot Toronto summer becomes a metaphor for the sexual tension between Daniel and Margot while Margot and Lou’s ramshackle house becomes a claustrophobic expression of Margot’s simmering discontent. Director of Cinematography Luc Montpellier’s use of a saturated palette of primary colours and Margot’s retro summer wardrobe evoke a sense of youthful abandon that creates a sense of romantic nostalgia throughout.
The film knowingly plays with the idea of adultery as the ultimate cliché, played out to a familiar backdrop of predictable motifs. Margot’s would-be lover Daniel is a struggling artist (the stock career choice of any self-respecting homewrecker) while Margot’s husband Lou is cooks a stream of indistinguishable chicken dishes for a living (no doubts a symbol of the relentless tedium he represents). Finally, Margot herself is a frustrated writer whose artistic temperament somewhat outstrips her actual writing achievements.
These narrative clichés are made all the more tragic by Margot’s childlike belief that her moral quandary (and her attraction to a handsome stranger) are the hallmarks of a unique love story. Instead, it is in the final act that Polley presents us with the staggering truth: ‘happily ever after’ is a myth. It is the staggering portrayal of lost dreams and epic disappointment that elevates Take this Waltz into a darkly comic image of sexual fantasy turned sour.
Take this Waltz is likely to polarise audiences, and several elements of the film are misjudged –the pacing can be sluggish in parts and some might lose patience with Margot’s navel gazing. However, despite flying perilously close to neurotic indie ‘quirkiness’, Polley’s well considered screenplay and Williams’ charming screen presence mean that the film will encourage a wealth of post-viewing dissection.