Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie Buff: Take This Waltz

I saw this movie after it was recommended to me by a friend. (Well, actually, what he said was, "there's like a five minute nude scene," but after four glasses of wine, that certainly sounded like a recommendation.)  The film stars Michelle Williams as Margot,  Seth Rogen as her husband Lou, and Luke Kirby as Daniel, the artist down the street whom she falls in love with. And there's a notable performance by Sarah Silverman as Margot's best friend Geraldine. It's not a movie that's really big on plot, nor one that really keeps you guessing. From the moment Margot and Daniel look at each other, it seemed pretty clear how this was going to end. And it's not even really a film about the characters involved. Lou and Daniel are both fleshed out only as much as they need to be to play their roles in Margot's life. Lou is cute and funny, but sometimes far too slow to respond to Margot. Daniel... smoulders a lot. Really, of the two, I thought Daniel was pretty undeveloped. He exists to appeal to Margot, and that's about it. Honestly, I think you could argue that Lou exists only to prop up an aspect of Margot too, except that Rogen's performance adds a bit more. I originally thought that Sarah Silverman's role in the film was to hint at a world beyond Margot, since a fair bit of time was devoted to establishing her as a recovering alcoholic. But no, that trait's just there to give her a particularly devastating speech to Margot at the end of the film.

So, then, if the film isn't about characters or plot, what is it about? Well, it's about Margot. Sort of. Michelle Williams does a really great job in establishing Margot as more than just a flighty 20 something, just through small things, like body language and facial expressions. And the film itself gets some credit here too; the opening and closing frames with her baking, for example, do a great job of establishing who Margot is when she's doing the mundane. But at the end of the day, I think there's a case to be made that Margot isn't really supposed to be a real person either. Rather, she's a living form of the abstract question at the heart of the film: "At what point is it okay to give up a good marriage in exchange for what could be a magnificent love?". And the film is less about depicting the lives of these people and more about finding that point.

And honestly, that doesn't interest me too much. I think it's fair to say I didn't really care for the film. And I had to ask myself whether that's because it's a film about a woman going against some societal norms. Did I dislike Margot because she dared to, as the film would put it, dare to try to fill that existential void everyone has? To stop being afraid to be afraid? ...Maybe. Would I have felt the same if the genders of the main characters had been reversed, if it had been a husband who fell in love with the girl next door? ...Again, maybe, but it's not really a fair question; you change the genders, and it's a different movie. It's a movie about the choices women face, not men. And part of my distaste, I think, comes from the fact that I'm fairly sure, if I was ever put in such a love triangle, I'm far more likely to be Seth Rogen than Daniel. And that's a perspective that entirely misses the point, because, again, it's a movie about a woman, not a man. But aside from all that, I still don't like the movie. I think there's two reasons, at the core. First is that I didn't really care for Margot, from the start. Within the first five minutes of the movie, she fakes a disability so she can ride a wheelchair through the airport, because she fears missing a connection. That's such an inherently selfish thing to do, and I found it really hard not to read her future actions through that lenses. And second, I'm not really a fan of the way the film placed its characters second to its main question. It feels a little too didactic to me, a little too heavy-handed.

So: it was a film of some really great acting, and more than a few good moments in terms of directing and writing. And I can see how it could be viewed as a positive feminist message, that women don't have to give up their passions because of the commitments they made. But all in all, it was a miss for me.

Later Days.

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