Reviewer's Rating: ★★1/2
Three-time Oscar nominee Michelle Williams co-stars with the normally funny Seth Rogen in Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley’s Toronto-set drama, Take This Waltz.
Rogen is anything but funny in his role as a cook testing recipes for the all-chicken cookbook he’s writing. Williams plays his conflicted wife, a woman who questions her ability to stay married to her emotionally distant husband.
Episodes of extended, seemingly improvised dialogue nearly turn Take This Waltz into a mumblecore movie. Mumblecore films typically are low-budget. They can feature little-known actors but, as with Take This Waltz, stars looking for indie-film credentials appear in them, too.
Intimate conversation in mumblecore films tends to make the stories’ characters, not to mention the audience, uncomfortable. There also are intense, albeit silent, moments. And, for good measure, the Take This Waltz soundtrack features numerous oh-so-serious folk-pop songs.
Williams’ character, Margot, spends what seems like days looking sad. She lurches between laughter and tears. Rogen’s Lou prefers to turn quiet, shut down. Staring painfully in the manner of an abandoned, caged dog or cat is his specialty here.
Take This Waltz co-star Luke Kirby dominates the movie’s most uncomfortable scene. Kirby’s Daniel performs a more-creepy-than-sensual X-rated soliloquy for Williams, his audience of one.
Despite the indie trappings Take This Waltz subscribes to, Williams, an actress who did wonderful work in last year’s My Week With Marilyn, 2010’s Blue Valentine and 2005’s Brokeback Mountain, is worth watching. Margot forms the movie’s credibly tortured heart.
Margot shares a triangle of pain with Lou and Daniel. They’re all intensely unhappy, frustrated people.
Margot and Daniel meet at a historic Canadian fort. He’s a tourist, she’s a freelance writer with an assignment to rewrite the site’s brochures. They see each other again at the Montreal airport, sit together on the plane and then share a cab back to their homes in a cute old Toronto neighborhood. It’s probably filled with aspiring songwriters, unpublished poets and novelists and artists who don’t show their work.
Margot and Daniels’s shared rides allow time for fey dialogue. In the midst of the verbiage, something deeper than their juvenile talk is happening.
It just so happens that they live across the street from each other. A convenient development for the film’s writer-director. Maybe it’s fate. As Margot and Daniel leave the cab they’ve shared, she turns sorrowfully to him and says, “I’m married.”
Margot’s interactions with husband Lou are either childishly playful or morosely disenchanted. He comes off as the marriage’s villain but her clinging and silliness is annoying.
It’s a testament to Williams’ talent that she makes Margot work. Although Rogen’s stunted Lou never quite emerges from his hiding place, Lou’s inability to connect with the wife who desperately wants intimacy from him suits the character.
With its A-list starring couple, much dialogue that may actually be scripted and nearly Hollywood-level production values, Take This Waltz is not mumblecore at its worst. Williams remains, however, is its high card.