***1/2 (out of four)
“You used to get it in your fishnets; now you only get it in your nightdress.”
-- Arctic Monkeys, “Fluorescent Adolescent”
The crushingly true drama “Take This Waltz” does not include the above song, but both get right to the heart of Margot’s (Michelle Williams) problem: She has not lost the love from her 5-year marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen), but the excitement has turned into a routine as familiar as eating the same food for dinner every night. That's essentially what the couple does as Lou tests recipes for a cookbook focused solely on chicken.
So Margot, a woman who admits her discomfort about feeling in between two different things (for example, she’s scared of making connections in airports), neither embraces nor rejects the spark that develops in her new friendship with Daniel (Luke Kirby). He’s a rickshaw driver who lives across the street and responds, “Oh, that’s too bad,” when she tells him she’s married. Where Margot and Lou enjoy comforts of the past that feel out of sync in the present, Margot and Daniel indulge the forbidden eroticism of an elephant in the room that they both see. Unlike many cinematic home-wreckers, Daniel won’t make the first move. Margot must decide what she wants from this relationship. A touch makes it real and crosses the line, but an intense café sequence in which Daniel tells Margot what he wants to do to her practically inverts the classic “I’ll have what she’s having” scene in “When Harry Met Sally.” The moment between Daniel and Margot is private and very real. It’s phone sex in person.
Written and directed by Sarah Polley (the wonderful “Away From Her”), “Take This Waltz” recalls “Punch-Drunk Love” in the violent comments Lou and Margot make to each other—an inside joke that they love each other so much they want to do terrible things to them. While the notion of fidelity threatened by a third party unfolds on screen roughly 20 times per year, tremendous work from Williams, Kirby and a continually improving Rogen highlight the delicate stakes and terms of each relationship.
A late sequence goes too far in suggesting the fleeting nature of experimentation, but the movie, which also includes an effective performance from Sarah Silverman as Lou’s recovering alcoholic sister Geraldine, uncovers the moments that feel wrong when they used to be right, and right even when they should be wrong. The characters make adult decisions and mistakes.
New things get old, a group of older women tells Margot and Geraldine in the shower after a swimming exercise class. Yet Margot, numb to the relaxed rhythms of her marriage, finds comfort in the now with Daniel, as if she’s not cheating just because she draws a progressively shaky line in the physical sand. What she learns, what we all learn at some point, is that anyone can wonder. Not everyone can resist.
Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 7:30 a.m. on WCIU, the U