Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, 2011)

Take This Waltz is currently available on Video On Demand. The film will be available in limited release on June 29, 2012.

With a filmography that includes Blue Valentine and Wendy and Lucy, Michelle Williams has become the actress of choice for miserablism cinema. She gives terrific performances but her films certainly evoke a self-deprecating quality. Not much is different with Take This Waltz, a film that explores a woman’s anxieties within a happy, albeit stagnant, marriage as she combats feelings for her neighbor. To sum up the film for its straightforward plotting is a disservice to the weight of the material, as Take This Waltz is an absolutely crushing picture that sports Williams’ finest performance to date.

With so much of the picture exhibiting a bright hue, director Sarah Polley makes the strikingly self-assured choice of complementing the somber material with such contradictory images. It’s one of the interesting subversions that Polley makes in creating a feel for the film, where the city of Toronto is shown in its most lush and beautiful. Polley’s finest scene, which involves an indoor amusement park ride with The Buggle’s Video Killed the Radio Star, swirls the audience into the complex framework of gorgeous imagery complementing a bleak emotional undertone. In fact, Polley’s most exemplary directorial decisions come from her use of music throughout Take This Waltz. Whether it’s The Buggle’s track or the crushing scene set to Leonard Cohen’s Take This Waltz, Polley’s utilization and directorial prowess in constructing these scenes is absolutely stellar.

As a writer, Polley is a bit less assured. Certain sequences have dialogue that tip-toes preciousness. But as I’m reflecting on the picture, it makes sense given the emotional anxiety on display. Most of these precious sequences take place toward the beginning of Take This Waltz, before the audience can grow accustom to the feel of the narrative, is what resulted in my initial resistance of the film. It’s certainly an unusual picture, if only for the occupations of its central characters alone – one pulls a rickshaw as a hobby, another is a chef specializing in chicken, etc. But this quirkiness is offset by Polley’s handle on the material – she treats every character as their own entity, refusing to turn them into a device.

It’s a bit difficult for me to embrace the material entirely, mainly because its emotional heft strikes so many chords with me. But for what it achieves on a formal level, Take This Waltz left me in awe. The weight of its material has left a significant impression on me, and it has only grown in stature since viewing the film. That alone makes the picture worth a watch – and as time passes, a rewatch.

Rating: 8/10