Take This Waltz (Magnolia Pictures, R)

takethis sqDid I mention how much I didn’t like all the characters in this film?

 

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Although you don’t hear people say it very often, I’m a big fan of Sarah Polley. And why wouldn’t you be? She’s been reliably great in nearly every film she’s acted in (perhaps most notably 1997’s The Sweet Hereafter, 1999’s Go, and the 2004 Dawn of the Dead remake), and her young directing career looked extremely promising after 2006’s Away From Her, which, among other things, garnered Julie Christie a Best Actress Oscar nomination and Polley herself a Best Adapted Screenplay nod. And she’s only 33. Hopefully she’s got a long, wonderful career in front of her, both as an actress and as a director and as a writer, and whatever else she wants to do.

Her new film, though, will just as hopefully be forgotten. It’s called Take This Waltz, and unlike just about anything else Polley has ever been associated with, I really didn’t like it at all. It was one of those situations where I was really confused about my not liking it, as I completely expected to. Affections for Polley aside, it stars Michelle Williams, who I love, Seth Rogen, who I almost always like (and seems an interesting choice opposite Williams), and Sarah Silverman, who I also generally like, in a small role. The screenplay is an original by Polley and, so far at least, it seems like most non-me critics like the film.

But why? The story focuses on Williams’ Margot, who quickly proves to be a liar and generally dislikeable. She’s married to Lou (Rogen), who is working on a chicken cookbook and is perhaps more dislikeable in a general sense than Margot. Silverman is Geraldine, Lou’s alcoholic sister who turns up to spout good advice. And what the plot really focuses on is Margot’s burgeoning relationship with her neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby), who she meets under dubious circumstances and who, somehow, is the least likeable character in the bunch.

Did I mention how much I didn’t like all the characters in this film? That’s a problem. I could give a shit if Margot winds up with Lou or Daniel; they’re both dickheads. And Margot’s annoying. And as far as I can tell, none of them are supposed to be this way. This is all the more baffling, considering how much I usually like the cast: Williams has had such a reliably strong post-Dawson’s Creek career; I’ve liked her in just about everything she’s done. Rogen checks all of what charm he has at the door and just turns up his annoying shtick; it’s nice to see him in a mostly dramatic role in an indie film, and I hope that he gives it another shot at some point, but any attempt to make Lou endearing here fails miserably. And Daniel is basically just a creepy, uninteresting, unfunny stalker. Williams has no chemistry with either Rogen or Kirby. She and Rogen play a game not unlike Adam Sandler and Emily Watson’s pillow talk in Punch-Drunk Love, but that’s an awfully narrow tightrope, and where Punch-Drunk succeeded at it masterfully, Waltz falls off and is eaten by the gators.

Perhaps most damning of all is that Take This Waltz had a lot in common with what may be Williams’ biggest artistic success yet, 2010’s Blue Valentine. Both are about the juxtaposition of new love and love falling apart. Take This Waltz is a bad enough movie as it is, but putting it next to the excellent Blue Valentine makes Waltz look like a turd from hell. | Pete Timmermann

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