The distributors of Canadian film Take This Waltz (cert. 15) did a post-show survey on the opening weekend at Manchester Cornerhouse – and presumably at other cinemas. They were keen for audience feedback.
“Why did I choose to see this film?” Other reviews had been OK, The Bourne Legacy and The Expendables 2 didn’t exactly seem to breaking new ground, but I didn’t tell them I’d be a sucker for any film named after a Leonard Cohen song.
Cohen’s song, based on a poem by Federico García Lorca, does get played, over an extended sex scene (maybe over-extended), and I enjoyed the song. The sex seemed as disconnected as much of the rest of the film.
The story finds Margot (Michelle Williams) and husband of five years Lou (Seth Rogen) in a marital rut, though he doesn’t know it. A cookery writer, he’d seemingly rather cook than copulate, while she’s a wannabe writer who’s making do with revising a tourist guide for Nova Scotia’s historic fortress of Louisbourg.
When they do get it on, it’s punctuated by bizarre and rather disturbing verbal jousting about the nasty things they might do to each other – and we’re talking eye-gouging with a melon baller. When new neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby) comes along, with a more refined sort of dirty talk, Margot’s resistance is tested.
It’s tested in all sorts of ways, and we see them all: lingering looks across the Toronto street where they live, happening to be going the same way, sharing a ride on a fairground waltzer (a link to the title!), getting into his room and even into his bed and we’re still no nearer consummation, however much the script makes it devoutly to be wished. By this time, it’s sex with her husband that almost seems the infidelity.
It’s a fine performance by Michelle Williams, but her character’s flaws and foibles are trailed from the start: a fear of making connections (literally in airports but symbolically throughout), and a restlessness that in the end plays out in finding another rut. Not even the unconventional sex (let’s have threesomes) gets us away from the apparent conclusion that novelty, or even passion itself, isn’t sustainable.
Writer-director Sally Polly’s last film was Away From Her (2006), a deeply moving story of how dementia affected a couple’s relationship. This story lacks a similar emotional peg, and the dialogue (and there’s a lot of it) lacks the same conviction.
There’s some good stuff, as when Daniel responds to Margot’s approach by asking if it’s a “shouldvitation” as in “I should have asked you”. Margot’s line, “I want to know what you do to me”, if not creepy, doesn’t quite meet the classic standard of “I’ll have what she’s having” or “You had me at hello”.
Sarah Silverman’s role, as Lou’s alcoholic sister Geraldine, adds little to the plot, but it’s a good performance. It might just mean I could avoid ticking the survey’s “dull/boring” box.