|Credit: Magnolia Pictures|
Love is hard to do. It's hard to do it right in life. And it's hard to do it right in fiction.
Most fictional love stories fall into one of three piles. The cheerful type, exemplified by rom-coms. The best of this genre is When Harry Met Sally. Then there is the sad kind, e.g. Titanic. Finally, there is the contemplative variety, like Take This Waltz. Since I first saw Waltz years ago, it continues to resonate with me.
Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley's 2011 indie movie starring Michelle Williams, explores romance in all its, sometimes contradictory, complexities. Poignant but not overwrought. Thoughtful but not neurotic. Poetic but not pretentious. Perfectly crafted.
Freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is married to Lou (Seth Rogen). He is a cookbook author and a really swell guy, but seems to be more into his recipes than his lovely wife. She meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), a rickshaw-driving neighbor in their quaint Toronto neighborhood. The film's muggy summer feels so immersive the humidity clings to me. Enter the conflict: Daniel and Margot develop an attraction toward each other while she struggles with ambivalent feelings for her husband.
Waltz is not a corny movie as many others in the romantic genre tend to be. Sure, the story has warm and fuzzy moments, but they don't dominate. The story portrays the odd, if not paradoxical, emptiness one can feel amidst the fullness of life—like being at a raucous bar and feeling silently and utterly lonely. The longing is palpable. Despite the undercurrent of melancholy, the mood is not bleak. In fact, the movie is funny at times. The scene on the plane about tomato juice makes me laugh every time I think about it. I don't even have to watch it.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect: the story's vibe changes in subtle but impactful ways. What you see onscreen is colorful, both visually and figuratively. Margot's journey reflects the reds of intensity and the blues of wistfulness, meandering through patches of gray, the edges blending into each other.
And that may be the genius of Polley, who wrote and directed the film: her ability to play with nuance. Unlike movies that talk about feelings too much, this one creates atmosphere with minimal jabbering. "Show, not tell." There's no talking at all in the most poetic scene, where Margot alone rides the spinner at the amusement park. Visually, the (long) moment is very kinetic, yet there is a sense that her emotions are settling into a profound stillness.
As a bonus, Waltz probably has the most deftly-done erotic scene ever, and it's far from the typical. It is sensual but not sexual, and so tense that you're completely engrossed. The most ingenious part? The scene is done without any action. The couple don't even touch each other. All they do is talk, still the scene burns with more heat than any face sucking or hip groping. Sometimes, less is indeed more.
Michelle Williams is fabulous in the movie, as usual. I've been a fan of hers since Dawson's Creek, and she is great in everything, no matter how minor her screen time. Just look at her performance in the film Manchester by the Sea—watching her broken heart breaks mine. She seems like a person with an old, pensive soul, which makes her perfect for the role of Margot.
All three of my favorite romantic movies are driven by an unforgettable soundtrack. "It Had to Be You" for When Harry Met Sally. "My Heart Will Go On" for Titanic. In Take This Waltz, it is "Video Killed the Radio Star" that I can't get out of my head. The whimsically delightful song plays during Margot's second spinning ride, creating a jarring contrast against her loneliness. The image and the music, together, say more about her love life than a thousand of words could explain.
Watch the trailer here!