Melancholy Michele Williams. The put-upon wife who holds her tongue about her husband's cheating in Brokeback Mountain. Half of a terribly sad couple in Blue Valentine. And now Take This Waltz, where she plays a brochure writer in a marriage that has everything but passion, flirting with the idea of an affair. Williams has portrayed a variety of other personality types, but it's the melancholy, tentative souls that stand out. She's very good with roles like this.
Take This Waltz is the second film from actor/writer/director Sarah Polley (Away from Her). Built around outrageous coincidence, it features showy independent film set pieces stitched together by understated scenes of ennui and longing. On my first viewing of the movie, I was irritated by everything I just described. But the set pieces stuck with me and I watched it again. The various contrivances were still bothersome, but the payoffs were fine. And despite the disjointed nature of the production, the characters were compelling. I liked the film.
The set up: While in Nova Scotia attending a historic reenactment of the public humiliation of an adulterer (subtle), Margot (Williams) is embarrassed by a fellow tourist who lobs a wisecrack her way. On the plane flying home, Margot encounters the fellow, who looks vaguely familiar, again. Daniel (Luke Kirby) turns out to be an okay guy. They flirt, she tells him she's married, he says that's a shame. Upon arrival back in Toronto, they share a cab and it turns out he lives right across the street. How's that for a meet-cute? How's that for a level of coincidence indicating an impending star-crossed romance?
Margot's husband Lou (Seth Rogen, playing it straight nicely) is a cookbook author. The two behave like newlyweds, affectionately exchanging fancifully bizarre threats. The relationship appears perfect, except for the lack of any visible sexual energy. Meanwhile, Margot and Daniel stalk each other and the flirting becomes more overtly erotic. Lou sails along his happy way, unaware of the situation. There's a subplot involving Sarah Silverman as a recovering alcoholic. It's introduced, dropped for most of the film, then reappears near the end. Shame it was mishandled.
Early in the story, a clumsy scene informs us of Margot's fear of transitions. Take This Waltz puts her in a situation where temptation compels her to consider a major transition. The film leaves the whys of Margot and Lou unanswered, but it doesn't leave viewers hanging about Margot's decision.