I was fully prepared to love the film, Take This Waltz. After all, it featured some of my favorite actors (Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman) and was directed by Sarah Polley, the Canadian actress cum director of the understated and critically-acclaimed indie, Away From Her. What’s not to like? Plus, just watching the trailer made me feel 421 new feelings.
As it happened, Take This Waltz did end up making me feel a buffet of emotions but none of them were particularly good. Despite showcasing some great acting, especially from Seth Rogen and Silverman, the film failed to have any emotional resonance with me. Instead of working on character development and, you know, quality writing, Take This Waltz too often falls victim to the Quirky Indie Film problem — which is to say that it was all style and little substance.
The movie follows a 28-year-old woman named Margot, a travel writer who’s living in Toronto with her wonderful, understanding husband, Lou, while starting to develop feelings for her attractive neighbor, Daniel. The attraction is mutual between the two and the entire film tracks the ambivalence Margot feels for these two great albeit wildly diffeent men in her life.
Sounds fine, right? Like a solid love triangle? Well, it would be compelling if the character of Margot felt more real. Although I usually love Michelle Williams, the combination of her acting and this insufferable character made the movie hard to enjoy. Basically, Margot is a giant freak on a leash. She’s so delicate and strange that she does things like demanding to be pushed around in a wheelchair at airports, even though she’s able to walk just fine. (I know, soooooo strange and weird and deep, OMG. And look, she drinks milk on airplanes. WHO DOES THAT?! SHE’S SO FUNKY. DID YOU SEE THE WHEELCHAIR?) Other strange things that Margot likes to do: Blow on people’s faces, lay against her oven while making a sad face, sobbing every five minutes just ’cause, laughing maniacally after sobbing because life is so complex, speak in baby talk to her husband, and go on rollercoasters by herself and smile. In sum, Margot is all over the damn place. All of the characters at one point ask her if she’s out of her mind. To which Margot just responds with a quivering lip and a wan smile, as if to say, “Yes, I am. Isn’t it sooooo interesting?”
Making an indie film about a pretty girl who feels vague sadness 24/7 is nothing new. But you know what? I’m tired of it. As much as Polley tries to convince us, the character of Margot is NOT nuanced. Seriously, you can’t just have stellar cinematography and put on a Feist song, and expect me to believe that any of the stuff in this movie is deep or real. How about putting some meat on your character’s bones instead of making them all malnourished and vegan? I’m so sick of seeing faux-deep arthouse films that claim to be realistic depictions of life when, really, they just have a kickass soundtrack and some nice lighting. Watching Katy Perry’s whipped cream tits in 3D feels more authentic than seeing Michelle Williams and her manufactured quirkiness. Like, don’t try to convince me it’s kale when it’s actually cotton candy, okay? These types of meandering and pointless “quiet” films offend me more than some blockbuster popcorn movie because they’re claiming to be full of depth when they’re really just as shallow as anything else. When are filmmakers going to realize that a cute wardrobe and long dramatic pauses don’t make for a compelling character?
The bummer thing about Take This Waltz is that it actually had promise. Sarah Silverman’s turn as Geraldine, a charismatic recovering alcoholic sister-in-law, is electrifying and Luke Kirby is, quite frankly, sexy as hell and totally believable as the antidote to Rogen’s nice guy affability. It’s Margot, who’s supposed to serve as the emotional center, that rings shallow. Maybe if she spent more time articulating her feelings rather than looking pensively into the camera for ten minutes we would get more of an idea about who she really is and, thus, actually care about her. I don’t mean make her likable. A female character doesn’t need to be likable in order to be affective. In fact, it’s more interesting and progressive when they’re not. Just look at Charlize Theron’s amazing and unsympathetic performance in Young Adult. It’s just that if you’re going to structure an entire film around a character, you better give them something to do other than look confused while wearing a nice dress.