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Take This Waltz

By Philip Martin

This article was published September 7, 2012 at 2:14 a.m.


Lou (Seth Rogen) and Margot (Michelle Williams) are an ill matched couple in Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz.

— I probably should recuse myself because I cannot be fair to this movie. I cannot provide the “objective review” that so many e-mailers and letter writers seem to want. So I will just say this now and get it over with: I really hate this movie.

Now I have to admit that the main reason I hate this movie is that I had impossibly high expectations for it. I love Michelle Williams. I really like Seth Rogen, especially as a dramatic actor. I have always been impressed by the intelligence of Sarah Polley’s work in front of and behind the camera. When I first looked at the schedule for this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, I circled Take This Waltz as the one movie that I absolutely had to see.

And then I saw it.

It is a movie about a selfish, bored young woman, Margot (Williams), who has one of those movie jobs as a freelance writer who really doesn’t write anything, although she obviously believes she was meant for finer things than to be tethered for life to her genial but underachieving husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), whose sole mission in life is to test chicken recipes for the chicken-only cookbook he’s preparing.

Despite the fact that neither of these putative adults is gainfully employed, they manage to live in a quaintly pretty neighborhood in Toronto’s west end, in a multicolored house we are meant to receive as shabby but was obviously put together by an art director. (I could not afford to live in this neighborhood, which I guess is supposed to be a slum.)

Margot first encounters Daniel (Luke Kirby) in Nova Scotia, where she has flown on assignment, to write a brochure about the Canadian equivalent of Colonial Williamsburg. She was wheeled on the plane in a chair, but he noticed her legs work just fine. She confesses she lies to the airline because she’s afraid of - groan - “ connections.”

“I think I may get lost and may rot and die,” she says. “I’m afraid of wondering if I’ll miss it. I don’t like being in between things. I’m afraid of being afraid.”

Oh, grow up already.

They share a cab home.They’re surprised to find that they live in the same artsy neighborhood. Practically across the street from each other. And how does Daniel pay his rent?

He works as a - get this - rickshaw driver.

But really he’s a very talented artist, who is afraid to show his work. And Margot is, of course, smitten with him. Because she deserves better than sweet, cuddly Lou. Because she’s afraid she’s missing out not being with this unctuous, pompous popinjay - all he needs is a mustache to twirl. Surely he’s the villain of the piece?

Well, no - Polley’s movie is too hip to designate villains, although we can hardly fault Margot for jettisoning the lumpy Lou for the remarkably fit rickshaw runner across the way. (Oh yes we can.)

Honestly I’m puzzled as to how so many obviously intelligent people, people capable of genuinely great work, could collaborate on a project so wrongheaded and tone deaf as this. There are a couple of nice sequences - the first go around on a tilt-a-whirl set to The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” is pure exhilarating movie magic - and Williams is too fine an actor to hit false notes, even when they are underlined in the script. And Polley obviously loves Toronto - it’s never been more beautiful or distinct as it is here. The more charitable way to read Take This Waltz is as a love letter to a city that rarely gets to play itself in the movies.

But the writing is smug and horrible, a story about nasty twenty somethings who assume the world should care about them because they’re attractive and aspire to arty lifestyles. And there’s an unintentionally funny sequence, a “sex montage” set in the unbelievably expensive-looking loft apartment where Margot and Daniel eventually set up housekeeping, that is so arch and ridiculous that I’m surprised it hasn’t been turned into an Internet meme. (But then this is indie cinema.)

Maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Maybe it’s enjoyable enough on a superficial level - maybe it says more about me than the film that I loathe it so. But it seems like a kind of Eat Pray Love for the bohemian set, a smug and self-adoring little movie that mistakes dullness for seriousness, and valorizes self indulgence.

That there are women like Margot in the world is true enough, but it seems unfair that an actor as naturally empathetic as Williams should be cast to play her. The character is repellent, but Williams almost sucks us in.

Take This Waltz, please.

Take This Waltz 72 Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman Director: Sarah Polley Rating: R, for language, some strong sexual content and graphic nudity Running time: 116 minutes

MovieStyle, Pages 33 on 09/07/2012

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