Thursday, 30 August 2012

Take This Waltz

2012. Dir: Sarah Polley. Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Sarah Silverman, Luke Kirby and Jennifer Podemski. ●●●○○

Years ago, back when I worked in bars, part of my duties included the hiring of staff. It may seem clichéd but first impressions really matter and whilst you may not know if you're going to hire someone within 10 seconds you do know if you're not. Equally, interviewees take note, you cannot have a 10 second period after that where your interviewer doesn't like you. True, we want you to do your best and enjoy the interview and show your true self, but we are looking for reasons to reject you. It's the same with movies. They need to both open well and not lose the audience. Take This Waltz, the second feature from Canadian Sarah Polley, starts beautifully, ends gracefully with real truth in it's resolution and characters. Unfortunately there's one very troubling scene about 30 minutes in that nearly made me walk out, and consequently makes me very reticent about recommending the film.

The film opens in a touristy French Canadian settlement, where enthusiastic performers re-enact typical but caricatured period scenes, called away from an almost delicate marriage ceremony (in a clear foreshadowing of events to come) Michelle Williams' pamphlet writer Margot somehow gets involved in a public whipping of a local miscreant, egged on by mysterious stranger Luke Kirby (Daniel). They meet again on the plane, mild antagonism melting into shared appreciation of silliness. Both characters annoy, Williams is brittle and childish, Kirby blunt and a bit over-attentive, yet their traits are human and believable. These characteristics exaggerate the child like emotional state the individuals are in, they want to dislike each or more accurately to be disliked but inevitable the journey ends with them playing games in a cab, pretending their not falling into lust.

Then the double whammies of the plot. Margot is married (to Seth Rogen chicken obsessed cookery book writer) and the two live virtually opposite each other.

The film then follows the path of a modern Brief Encounter; the would be lovers repeatedly bump into each other, exploring each others mindsets unable to decipher their hormones. We see Margot torn between the dull but loving Rogen - really showing his chops in a dramatic role - and the virile romanticised Kirby. The cinematic trips together between the characters in David Lean's 1945 classic are replaced by semi-planned moments in the local swimming pool (the obvious joke of Williams losing control of her bladder and the balletic underwater dance between the two are superbly framed exposing different aspects of the budding romance) whilst scenes in Daniel's flat are reminiscent of the awkward march towards sexual awakening for Celia Johnson.

Where restraint and sacrifice characterised Brief Encounter we now live in a world where self-gratification is all, ignoring Sarah Silverman's holy fool of an alcoholic sister-in-law ("Life has a gap in it... It just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it." is the line she wisely espouses in the trailer) Williams runs after Kirby when he moves away (not to Africa but to a suspiciously large loft apartment). But Silverman is right, there is still a gap, by this point we know all the relationship short-cuts between Williams and Rogen, all those silly things couple do between themselves, comfort acts that can't be replicated. Sure the sex is better (and far more explicit) but part of the emotional connection isn't there. Williams still faces a gap, but which gap was worse.

The performances are spot on all round, Rogen's big scene when he finds out about the affair is touching and effective, whilst being cut in a truly unexpected way, Silverman too does a great job, even if it's barely different from her comedic persona. The show belongs to Michelle Williams, though, expressive through her physicality and deep beneath her eyes, even when you disagree with Margot choices (be it the faux irritability at the start or the decision to enact her desires) you fully understand the motivation. There are two scenes on a fairground ride, tipping points for the character, where Michelle does the sort of fantastic jaw-dropping work that justifies her Oscar nominations as her entire situation catches up with her and you know where she must go next.

Sarah Polley is an poetic director, focussed on finding the truth in the characters, and working again with Away from Her DP Luc Montpellier, they bathe Williams in the light of renaissance art, confirming the character is at mercy of her sexual and emotional make-up.

Now I read back at that review and it feels like a rave, but I have to return to my earlier comments. A film mustn't lose the audience, even for 10 seconds. And this film lost me. There is a discussion between Williams and Kirby that uses homophobic language. I understand why, it's Williams teasing Kirby to admit he likes her, but it is protracted and I was offended. It seemed to me an unnecessary way to make the point and as a gay man I felt there wasn't a good enough reason, or a scene later that balanced out the homophobic attitudes. That one scene, which many people probably don't even notice cost this film a blob, and whilst I would like to recommend the film for the performances, the film-making and every other scene, that one exchange seriously undermines the movie and therefore I feel I have to caution potential cinema goers.

1 comment:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I don't know if I wasn't paying keen enough attention but I can't even recall the incident you refer to :(

The film is nice in parts and I generally liked it but sometimes it got so incoherent and illusory and sometimes so pat and then other times too precious. Great concept, finely acted but oftentimes it promised more than it gave.