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Customer Review

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Margot and her restless, uncertain heart, 3 Sept. 2012
This review is from: Take This Waltz [DVD] (DVD)
*** Spoilers ahead ***

Directed by Sarah Polley who appeared in My Life Without Me and previously directed Away From Her, and starring Michelle Williams who can embody vulnerability and insecurity so naturalistically, this movie promised a lot. I wanted it to work better than it did and I wanted to fall more completely into its dream world than its uneven screenplay permitted. It suffers from an excess of lush visuals (which do not alter, rendering Margot's change of heart oddly flat), inconsistent characterisation, and the problem that Williams seems to have had more immediate chemistry with her on-screen husband (Seth Rogen) than her rickshaw-wielding love interest (Luke Kirby). Yet the things that are good about "Take This Waltz" are very good.

Many reviewers have criticised the female protagonist for a lack of loyalty, a lack of fidelity. But Margot - a vision of blue toenails, vintage sundresses and with a heart-shaped birth mark on her shoulder - is crazily faithful; it's just that her fidelity is to her emotions rather than to her dependable, chicken-loving husband, with whom she feels trapped in a sagging marriage. Self-absorbed and invariably skittish, she hides her real self behind regressive baby talk and yearns to feel sexually alive, with her senses tingling with electricity. The 'Freeloader' T-shirt she wears on the plane and her owl bag neatly suggest two key aspects of her character from the start: her rather solipsistic relationship to marital commitment and a sense of mystery, of impenetrability, and of the night-time activity to come. There is also an interesting parallel between the film Lou and Margot go to see on their anniversary (Mon Oncle Antoine) and the Miners T-Shirt which Daniel later wears to the house party.

Lou's transparency is contrasted with Daniel's opacity and it's clearly the latter that the oddly inscrutable Margot finds the more erotic. Daniel and Margot spar verbally; he provokes and challenges her, which seems to promise sexual and emotional adventurousness in her feverish imagination. His intuitive understanding of and caring curiosity about her inner life provides relief and excitement after the bland comforts of home life with Lou: she is clearly a woman excited (sexually excited even) by the prospect of being seen and understood as she truly is. With Daniel she might finally be able to jump out of her skin. But his character - embodying many a bookish girl's fantasy of natural althleticisim (the rickshaw), creative sensitivity (he paints and reads Brick magazine) and emotional maturity - is insufficiently fleshed out and it is interesting to read in a previous version (2009) of the screenplay that it was intended for Daniel's parents to have died in a car accident when he was twenty, which would have explained his trust-funded apartment in Little Portugal, Toronto, and perhaps the loner air, too.

The ending is ambiguous, which has frustrated many. Polley seems to suggest that it is only a matter of time before Margot's new relationship will grow stale and the quotidian emptiness will resurface. Their bed is pushed away from the centre of their sunlit loft apartment (and implicitly their lives) and Margot is shown reverting back to baby talk and watching television with her arms tellingly crossed. Polley seems to suggest that Margot's love objects are to a certain extent interchangeable; nothing will fill that 'gap in life', not even the living embodiment of your sexual fantasies. But at least Margot has edged towards closer contact with her feelings and instincts which (moral considerations aside) is surely an improvement on the confining and childlike life she led before. She pays a high price for this, however, as she recognises, gazing up at the vibrantly painted house with Lou sitting on the sun-dappled stoop. In the final scene on the Scrambler on Centre Island, under the bright neon lights and the overwhelming music and with the feeling of flying through the air with her problems thrown to the wind, her senses are electrified again and she is undeniably and finally alive. Yet we know from an earlier scene that this feeling will be temporary, relief is always ephemeral: the harsh, naked lights will be switched back on and her feet will touch the bare concrete again.

"Take This Waltz" has polarised viewers and Polley has explained the mixed reviews as a culture unprepared for female sexual restlessness. That may be partly true (though Sex and the City has surely helped representations in this respect). But the overt symbolism (e.g. the bland chicken), some contrived dialogue (including an excruciatingly scripted scene when Margot sits in Daniel's bed) and coincidence-heavy screenplay with its flimsy endings also seem to be clear flaws. Perhaps what we ultimately experience with this film is what Margot has been experiencing all along - an undefinable restlessness and the frustration that things don't get better. (3.5 - 4 stars)
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Location: Berlin, Germany

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