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18 August 2012

"We Live Together. We Know Everything Already."

Will we ever see Michelle Williams looking happy on screen? In Dawson's Creek, she played Jen Lindlay, the girl with the past, who is abandoned by her parents and ostracised by the small-town folk of Capeside, then achieves some degree of accept and but ultimately ends up being killed off in the series finale as a single mom with a rare heart condition. Her characters in Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine are hardly any more cheerful and most recently, she played Marilyn Monroe in My Week with Marilyn. 'Nuff said.

In Sarah Polley's new movie Take This Waltz, she plays Margot, a dissatisfied writer in her late twenties, married to Lou (Seth Rogen), but wondering whether there is more to life than her comfortable existence and  her safe, almost platonic relationship. Enter Daniel (Luke Kirby) whom she meets on an excursion to research some tourist attraction in another Canadian city (it isn't explained why he is there, but then it may also be significant that his name is mentioned only once or twice during the film) and who then ends up sitting next to her on the plane home. Oh, and he also happens to live literally across the street from her and Lou. Sparks fly between the two of them and Margot is gripped with an excitement she hasn't felt in a long time, but guilt overcomes her and she confesses to Daniel that she is married. She then spends much of the rest of the film putting herself in situations where she can be close to Daniel, egging him on and then backing away fearfully when he gets too close, physically or emotionally. She wants to be with Daniel and she thinks she is in love with him but she can't bear the thought of hurting Lou and doesn't want to contemplate the idea of leaving him.

But if her relationship with Lou wasn't perfect to begin with. Most of the interactions between them we see are pretty childish: they play-fight, they make faux threats to each other ("I'll gauge your eyeballs out with a potato peeler," or similar) and they repeat over and over how much they love each other, as though saying it more often makes it more true. With this new dimension, though, things become more tense and they both over-react more, retreating into their own hurt, rather than talking about things. After a surprise encounter in which Daniel (who is a rickshaw runner who paints) gives Lou and Margot a lift to their anniversary meal, Margot has to try harder than ever to persuade herself and Lou that everything is normal, but an argument develops when Margot tries to force Lou to have a conversation when neither has anything to say. "We live together," he tells her. "We know everything already."

We don't know much about Daniel, though, and maybe that's what appeals. He is an artist at heart, Margot sees, whereas her husband, who is writing a cookbook of recipes with chicken, the most vanilla of meats. This is a little heavy-handed: yes, we get that Margot is bored of her mundane life. Daniel, meanwhile, offers all sorts of new possibilities. In a moment of weakness--or is it bravery?--Margot agrees to spend the day with Daniel and they end up on a fairground ride. They laugh and smile together as Video Killed the Radio Star blares over the speakers (again, this is a little heavy-handed: exciting artist 'killed' the mundane husband), the lights flash and it's all fun. But then the music stops, the light comes on and reality returns.

Will Margot pluck up the courage to leave Lou? Does she even want to, really? I don't want to give too many spoilers away here, but suffice to say, Margot's decisions and reasoning is explored in excruciating depth. She isn't always a very likable character. She's certainly very sad and troubled and her heart seems to be in the right place. Nor is she the only person to be caught between doing the 'right thing' and not hurting someone whom she loves and who loves her, and 'following her heart.' All of the performances are great. I always like Williams but Rogen also impressed me--I've tended to avoid his oeuvre since the ill-fated Freaks and Geeks, but he was really good as the kind, loving nice guy. The chemistry between Williams and Kirby was very convincing--I particularly like the scene where their characters are in a bar drinking martinis one afternoon. Or rather, not drinking martinis, because he is describing exactly what he would do to her if he had the opportunity. Hot stuff.

Polley's film is beautifully shot and tightly scripted. Understandably, it is pretty painful in places, but the characters and the dilemmas they face are very convincing and feel real and interesting, even though this is hardly the first time a woman contemplates leaving her husband. The ending confused me a little more--well, not the very ending, because I thought that worked well--but there is a bit of a montage towards the end that left me wondering about Margot and her decisions. Other than that, though, Take This Waltz is acutely observed, well acted and makes compelling, if sad, viewing.

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