Take This Waltz (2012)
If someone were to point out my favorite thing(s) to read, even more than a great novel, it would be essays about something that affected them so deeply that they felt compelled to write about it. It can be short, or it can be 20 pages long. A great author of this approach would be Lester Bangs, who wrote beautifully indulgent music reviews in such an intensely personal way that were so resonant, that for the right reader, you might want to hug the guy for articulating exactly what music can really mean in a way that you’ve been trying to express yourself. I certainly didn’t always agree with Bangs, but I always identified with how insanely wonderful the experience of falling in love with music can be through his words and passion. I fall in love with a movie in a different way than with a song, and obviously in a different way than I do with a person. But I live for those moments of pure rapture. I preface this by saying that the best movie for me is the kind that I struggle with - maybe that rapture comes much later upon reflection. Certainly I have memories being in awe of a scene (notably if its accompanied by my favorite song of all time - bias alert). It's probably because favorite movies of mine reflect life, myself, people I know or I feel that my perceptions or expectations have been challenged. Sometimes I immediately love it for the effect the movie has on me, and other times, it takes awhile to fully process. As I’m watching it, I might not even like certain moments because the characters themselves are doing reprehensible things or even acting inconsistently. One could chalk it up to poor writing, but because I am drawn to understand people and their actions, I chalk it up to a person being beautifully human rather than approach it from a storyteller's perspective. I realize that screenplays rely on a storytelling structure, therefore I'm not dismissing its importance. Sometimes the story is simple: woman loves man, but has feelings for another man. What will she do?
Take This Waltz is a film that I wrestled with in ways that I always hope for when it comes to stories revolving about complex relationships. Dramas like these are exactly my “type” of film, much like Michelle Williams has slowly become my “type” of actress that I gravitate towards. Both the film and the actress display a reckless fearlessness, captured by Sarah Polley who clearly was writing from a very personal place. She could very well be that filmmaker who only makes a movie when something personal in her life needs to be addressed, but then again, I wouldn't expect each and every detail to stem from real life. But if the emotion captured feels real (and sometimes surreal), then I'm on board. Polly could have gone through a difficult transition during her divorce, and there is also no need to look for autobiographical roots necessarily in this film (although I tend to experience psychological transference with a lot of movies based on my own history with relationships so that’s something you should know up front). I’d like to think that any writer will “write what they know” because it pours out of them in some unexplainable, organic display of affection. This story of conceivable infidelity and relationship stagnation has been done over and over, but Take This Waltz is a roller-coaster of feeling that is both jarring, funny and heartbreaking often within the same moment. I felt similarly during Miranda July’s The Future – another movie I will gladly rewatch to experience the same feelings of being pummeled by its stark honesty accompanied by an undeniably sad, bittersweet truthfulness. Perhaps you scoffed at it due to a talking cat or a talking moon. Or maybe those things meant something more to you, in the way it did for me since they added depth to the world July was presenting. A few have written The Future off as an exercise in self-awareness and whimsical contrivance, rather than a sincere story about real people. But if I identify with the plights and devastation, then there has to be a real connection to the story. Certainly there are obvious quirks that will turn any one off, both with Polley and July’s approach, but I find those idiosyncrasies to be endearing and necessary to the ideas being presented. If you roll your eyes, I don’t blame you at all. It didn't hit home for you, or you felt like the puppet strings were being pulled by a director who winks with an insincere smile. But for me, I feel destroyed and recreated by films like these and applaud the filmmakers who dare to take the risk of being boldly personal to the point of possibly losing the audience. Blame it on oversensitivity, blame it on transference, but as long as I get to feel something profound as a result of an experience, the source of the emotion whether contrived or not, is not an issue for me. The feeling exists, and it's what I gravitate towards. Long story short (too late), Take This Waltz made me feel a lot.
Margot (Michelle Williams) has been married to Lou (Seth Rogen) for five years. They live in their intimate little house in Toronto, surrounded by bright colors and sunlight. She writes things like tourist information for attractions, and he is working on a cookbook of chicken recipes. They are both writers who have trouble being intimate outside of reciting detailed Punch-Drunk Love-esque declarations of “beating each other up” out of pure love and affection. Overall they are still content in each others presence, even if he is engrossed with his book. Margot is in a consistent state of restlessness and sex is a rare occurrence despite initiating physical interaction. You can tell that not only she is detached from Lou, but from herself. She buries herself in awkward and downright childish behavior, due to indecisiveness about who she is within the marriage. And when she meets a random handsome guy on an airplane (Luke Kirby) who genuinely sees her as a sexual being later, she becomes drawn to him because there's nothing quite like the feeling of something new. On one hand, I was thinking “Why be drawn to that seemingly vacant artist who is effortlessly sexy?” And what's up with his career that can magically afford him such a lovely home? I could easily see a criticism that maybe Kirby’s character wasn’t fully fleshed out. But maybe he’s not meant to be, since we’re mostly looking at him through her confused eyes. She may not be craving depth, but just thoughtless sex in hopes that it could lead to fulfillment. So the question this movie poses to the viewer is “why not” act on impulse or why should she hold back? Are two people meant to be true for the long haul, and is it just such a bad thing to feel longing despite being with someone comfortable and kind. These are the questions that plague a lot of couples I imagine during a point of inertia. I can distinctly remember when I was in a long-term relationship, and suddenly other girls were taking interest in me. I never acted on an outside attraction, but I knew that my significant other could sense that I was still drawn to the “idea” rather than the action itself. We became distracted by insecurities to where a wedding reception became a time of tension, rather than celebration. Those types of communal events tend to bring out both the best moments, and the most anxiety-inducing moments. So interestingly enough, I identified with all three characters in Take This Waltz. I can understand Luke Kirby's attraction to Michelle Williams despite her absurd, off-putting personality at times. I can understand Michelle Williams' haphazard desire to pursue a sexual connection, rather than an intimate one that may or may not be long-term. I can understand Seth Rogan's frustration with his wife and also completely understood why he was so career-focused. Maybe all of them are in a constant state of denial, and by the time the final scenes roll around and Sarah Silverman (playing Margot's friend) erupts with a heartrendingly honest monologue, I was pretty much a wreck in the best way possible.
This movie is about internal frustration, the power of words, the familiar fears and primal needs that constantly conflict, and finally the act of self-expression being released for better or worse that may or may not have been for the best. There is oodles of ambiguity here, especially once we get to that final scene. I'm not sure if it's the sign of a great movie for most people, when it requires one to be constantly confronted by sexual complexity and messy fits of humanity. Michelle Williams does not make her character sympathetic which takes guts. Sarah Polley does not view her in the best light, but also seems to sympathize with her. I was questioning a lot of the dialogue, simply because it felt too real in some instances, but also like a movie in other places. On a personal level, I've certainly experienced moments that feel too real or too unbelievable. Should a movie be either/or, and fine the right balance? Not for me. If the summation of its strengths ultimately add up to an emotional response or further introspection, then it is a success. Could it be the best movie of the year? I don't think so. It might be a favorite of mine, which again, could simply be a result of a personal emotional bias. I've been using that as a theme lately, when talking about movies that make me cry. It's easy for any writer/director/actor to make the audience cry. Honestly, I love it when a moment in life makes me feel any sort of emotional extreme because it acknowledges that we don't always have to be complacent about our feelings. Let them out. And when filmmakers manage to make me feel more than one emotional extreme within a 2-hour running time, then it's successful on those terms. Maybe not always in storytelling terms or even in terms of how the movie presents the story. The characters in this world felt familiar despite doing things that I couldn't always comprehend. However, I have experienced that within my own friends and family, and I'm sure I have done things that baffled them as well.
Take This Waltz is a reminder about the fragility of connecting in a way that feels right, and the acceptance of disconnection as being a distant or immediate possibility every time we meet someone new and/or feel displaced with someone we thought we'd love forever. But what comes after the moment we connect, disconnect, and reconnect both physically and emotionally? On a recent episode of Mad Men, Don Draper declares happiness as being "a moment before you need more happiness." There's that perpetual cycle we are faced with. This paycheck, this cookie, this cigarette, this sex, this workout, this song we wrote... gives us that unabashed happiness we are blessed to experience until it's over and we need to find something else shortly thereafter. The “something else” is encapsulated in a striking montage in Take This Waltz once the Leonard Cohen song of the same name, plays in a sequence that I will not reveal here. On one hand, you may be taken aback about where it goes… on the other hand... it's safe to say that you will be surprised about where it goes shortly thereafter. For some it's predictable/contrived, for others it's joyous, and for others it may be depressing. I think life and love tends to be all of those things at different times and we each dance with the possibility of being challenged by every emotional extreme that our desires can provide. At times an expression of desire is full of extreme happiness, and other times it all turns to shit once the moment wears off or becomes something else. Take This Waltz literally questions the gray area of infidelity, and during one of the best moments involving female frontal nudity you will ever see, I think Sarah Polley finds a sweet sadness and quiet levity in the human experience of not just being in love, but also loving one's self for who they are. And if love is often equated to feelings of happiness or contentment, will we ever be truly satisfied with who we choose to marry, and who we end up being? You may be happy with both, but unfortunately, there's always that need for "more" that comes creeping in. Will you act on it and should you act on it and can you live with the choice either way? Take what you will from those random needs and desires that call out but proceed with caution. And try to dance with those folks who will put up with and embrace those moments where you feel ugly, awkward, childish, vulnerable, and naked. A