September 11, 2011


Take This Waltz is a tough film to take in. You wouldn’t guess it from the casual romantic tone and the star-heavy cast that features the likes of Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman, but the film is intriguingly (even frustratingly) morally ambiguous. We’re given the standard rom-com set-up of a semi-content married girl who meets a tall dark stranger who she finds wildly attractive and appealing. Yet, hometown TIFF favorite writer/director Sarah Polly never makes it clear whether her protagonist should be sticking with her comfortable marriage or embarking on a new adventure. It’s nice to see a movie like this that makes you draw your own conclusions, but there’s a pretty big catch. You see, because it’s difficult to tell if the main character makes the right decision, it’s also difficult to tell if she’s even a character even worth liking. Ambiguity is nice, but walking out of a theater feeling like you despise a character who you just spent two hours with isn’t particularly satisfying. Hit the jump for more.

Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman TAKE THIS WALTZ movie imageMichelle Williams stars Margot, one of those wandering 20s types who spends her time writing travel brochures and sampling her husband Lou’s (Seth Rogen) endless supply of recopies that he’s compiling for an all-chicken cookbook. She’s content, if bored with married life, existing through domestic routines and spending time with Lou’s foul-mouth sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman). Then one day she notices a handsome artist named Aaron (Aaron Abrams) who lives across the street and runs a rickshaw for cash. She becomes obsessed with Aaron and he starts to seduce her, first through harmless flirting and eventually through graphic sex talk in the film’s only truly cringe-worthy scene. It all gets so tough for Margot. How is she ever going to be happy in a pleasant family life when there’s some hot dude who talks about filling her with cum living across the street? Etc.

Margot’s dilemma is compelling for a very brief amount of time, but soon she starts to seem like a whiner who doesn’t appreciate what she has. There’s an extent to which that’s supposed to be the case, but Polly tells her story in such a detached and objective manner that it’s difficult to really know whether she loves or condemns Margot. I suppose that’s the point, but from my perspective it was hard to care about such a confused character. That’s a pretty big flaw at the center of the movie; however, it’s difficult to dismiss Take This Waltz outright because it does have a great deal going for it (including nude scenes for both Williams and Silverman for all you Mr. Skin pervs out there).

take-this-waltz-movie-image-seth-rogen-michelle-williams-01Polly already proved to be quite a strong humanist filmmaker with her debut Away From Her and that carries over here. You can tell that Polly at least cares for Margot even if most rational audiences won’t and her work with the cast is impressive. Michelle Williams is utterly incandescent in the movie and any remote affection I felt for her character early on came directly from Williams’ natural onscreen presence. But perhaps even more impressive are the performances Polly gets out of Rogen and Silverman. Both of the comic actors clearly improv a few laughs into their characters, but mostly play it straight. Silverman’s struggling alcoholic is painfully believable, while Rogen goes to some impressively deep emotional places as the distraught husband (he even gets a jump cut emotional meltdown a la Stardust Memories).

Unfortunately movies cannot be judged on their performances alone. Despite everything there is to like about Take This Waltz, the difficult presentation of the central character is just a little too much. The film is about a bad decision and a harsh lesson learned, but it’s still tough to really like Margot and that’s a problem. There are plenty of movies out there with horrible protagonists like Raging Bull, however the difference there is that we’re never actually supposed to consider Jake La Motta a good person. Margot is clearly supposed to be a wonderful woman who makes one dumb mistake and personally, I found that hard to swallow. I’m sure this will be a movie that split audiences based entirely on how you react to Margot’s plight. If you love the movie and consider her to be a flawed, lovable heroine, then great. Chances that just means we’ll never be friends though. That might be a good thing.

—- C-

For all of our coverage of the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival, click here.

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  • Duncan

    Aaron is played by Luke Kirby, not Aaron Abrams.

  • Leslie

    It’s Daniel played by Luke Kirby – not Aaron. And her name is Polley not Polly. I don’t know if that adds insult to injury or just takes away from the integrity of your review.
    Idiot reviewer.

  • News Hit

    Surprise, surprise! A male reviewer does not like a film because the female lead has an affair. From what I gather from the review, ‘Take This (Christoph?) Waltz’ is well acted and intelligently constructed, but – because the filmmaker has the audacity to present adultery from the female perspective – that means it is not “likeable” enough.

    Either that or “Polly tells her story in such a detached and objective manner that it’s difficult to really know whether she loves or condemns Margot.” What is so wrong with moral ambiguity?

  • Sarah

    Dreadful movie. However, I have no doubt that it will be critically acclaimed. While the actors did the best they could do with the material, the script was embarrassing.

  • Alex–

    I’d just like to say your a retard for misspelling Sarah POLLEY’S name.

  • Jennifer

    I agree with this review in the sense that this movie is so over-rated! It was just bad. This was an example of taking good, lovable actors and putting them in material well below their usual standard. Poorly shot. Awkwardly directed. And groan-worthy attempts at insight.
    Take gender out of the debate. This is a bad movie from start to finish and the worst thing I’ve seen at TIFF. To end on a positive note, I think Michelle Williams was trying her best to elevate stale material and she looks so natural and beautiful throughout.

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  • Evy

    This was beautifully directed and it paints real life feelings, issues and real doubts, not “how you should make a character lovable or not for the audience to be able to swallow it”. It demonstrate a true understanding of REAL life… Sorry but it is like people said before: a really dumb review! The movie was delightful in that sense that it was a disturbing in a way!

  • Ann G.

    Williams’ character is not likeable because of her fear to be alone and her failure to do something about it. At the end she finaly realized that relationships were not the solution for her troubles. She got on the ride of life and enjoyed it but until the end, she was not likeable.

    She used relationships as she used the wheelchair to get from one place to another so that she was not lost in between. This theme is stated in Williams’ conversation with Kirby in teh plane. Williams was alone with the husband incapable of compromise, passion and communication. She was too scared to leave him. She jumped into a new relationship with Kirby to escape the old one but it was not the answer. Silverman said “everything is the same you just left” meaning you can run but you still have the same problems wherever you go unless you fix them. Silverman drank to escape and Williams sent to another man.

    Kirby’s character was like a mirror of Williams’. A “coward” he called himself, afraid to show his art and not living up to his full potential. Kirby was crying in the ride because he knew he could not have her. Then after he got her, he lost interest. The difference between Williams and Kirby was that he liked things that he could not have, he liked longing to be an artist but doing nothing about it.