Reporting Jonathon Sharp
Take This Waltz is the only movie I’ve seen starring Seth Rogen that I didn’t enjoy.
Perhaps that’s because Rogen’s role – that of the gentle, good-guy, cookbook-writing husband whose wife cheats on him for an artist – is rather small. As you’d imagine, his happy-go-lucky/class-clown presence lends some laughs to the movie. But those laughs don’t do much to lift the film’s self-pitying and suffocating atmosphere.
Take This Waltz, I should say, is not a comedy.
The movie is centered on Margot (Michelle Williams) who describes herself as a woman “scared of being scared.” She’s wildly indecisive and seems only to be happy when things are happening to her. She constantly needs to be recognized by the men in her life. And if, for example, her attempts at seduction fail, she finds herself devoid of all meaning and courage.
Allegedly, she’s a writer, complete with a Mac Book Pro and everything. But she doesn’t do much writing; instead she just flips between feelings of love and despair, tearing herself up to the point where, after things have gotten so bad, she actually has to do something – make a move, commit, tell the truth.
Margot, poor Margot is an insufferable coward. She’s our hero, in a sense, but she strives for nothing but a happiness that can only be brought by another. Take This Waltz may as well be about Mario Bros. Margot is princess Peach, waiting in a comfortable Canadian castle for her seemingly plebeian lover to come up in a rickshaw and whisk her away.
This is not to say Margot is without beauty or intelligence, she’s just boring. As a result, I found myself without sympathy for her struggles. Perhaps, you’ll feel differently.
And not liking one character is no reason to discard a movie. Unfortunately, I hated Mario — Margot’s romantic interest, Daniel (Luke Kirby) – as well. He is a rickshaw runner and an artist. He’s solitary, thoughtful and hip. One imagines him, without much difficulty, exiting an Urban Outfitters buffed with enough cool T-shirts to photogenically storm his princess’ castle.
In the beginning of the movie, the two meet on a plane and realize, in a cab ride, that they live across the street from each other. She wakes up in love (and in his bed) and begins to hold herself captive.
For a while, their relationship is something of an off-and-on flirtfest. But he starts to follow her around to swimming/aerobics classes and things get real, you could say.
Speaking of getting real, Take This Waltz does have one lovely scene. This might surprise some, but Sarah Silverman is it. She’s naked, too. And so is Margot. It takes place after Peach pees in the pool. Her urine turns purple due to Canadian pool magic and everyone is forced out, which Peach finds quite funny.
But in the shower, among many old, naked women, the film suddenly glows with surprising tenderness. Simple but beautifully lighted shots bring out the warmth of the situation: a bunch of women glistening, talking, sharing words, stories, advice and laughs. It’s a nice moment. Unfortunately, that nugget of tasteful nudity is snuffed out by some sex scenes that lack sexiness and, more importantly, some semblance of intimacy.
One sex scene takes place in a bar, on a date. There is no actual sex, but the couple talks about sex. Daniel describes, in detail, how it is he pleases her. Margot is dazzled by the description. The scene smacks of Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend in which something similar happens. But in Godard’s scene, the spoken-of sex is interesting – it involves cracking eggs between a woman’s buttocks, if I remember correctly – and mesmerizes the viewer the verve of surrealist poetry.
The other sex scene in Take This Waltz, over which the movie’s namesake song plays, is immoderately poor. The beauty of Leonard Cohen’s lyrics actually eclipses the scene, in which a camera revolves around Margot and Daniel as they make it together once, twice, now with another woman, and now with another man. In comparison to the wonderful songwriting, the sex scene seems trite, Hallmark, ordinary as a window display for a shop that sells happiness to North Americans.
What’s most disappointing about the movie is that it feels like it’s incomplete, like it should have been better. Philosophically, it brings up some interesting questions about who people are and how they change. For instance, how is an alcoholic who disappoints her family different from an adulteress? How does society view that? And what is the value of happiness, however brief, when it comes at the cost of hurting those you love?
If any of those questions pinprick your heart, Take This Waltz couldn’t hurt to see. But if you want to see a movie that lives up to a beloved Leonard Cohen song, don’t see this one.