I’ve been following the career of Sarah Polley since she starred in TV’s “Avonlea” and I was young enough that having a crush on her wasn’t creepy. And yet somehow I missed the actress’s well reviewed, award season drama Away from Her. Ostensibly the film was about an elderly couple dealing with the hardships of Alzheimer’s disease, but I suspect now that it was some sort of warning. “Away from her” would be considered a wise advice where Take This Waltz’s hero Margot is concerned.
She’s a rather horrifying train wreck of a person, but more than that she’s the kind of woman some films, of the Eat Pray Love variety, would consider vaguely heroic for wincing her way through a pleasant marriage and dreaming guiltily of fanciful flings with that handsome starving artist across the street. She gets a lot of mileage from being played by Michelle Williams, whose talents shine through even Take This Waltz’s mst awkward scenes (and there are many), but her dissatisfaction with a lifestyle many of us spend our entire lives striving for, and tirelessly, gives the distinct impression that she doesn’t deserve a happy ending. Perhaps if she had something resembling a personality we'd be more forgiving, but she spends her time waffling between "adorable" mannerisms and cowering in fear. Sarah Silverman plays her sister-in-law, and with only a handful of scenes steals the entire film as a similarly troubled soul whose victories and mistakes are tempered with a little charisma.
For the record, we have to spend nearly two hours watching the unlikable Margot wishy-wash her way through unsympathetic problems. It has the same effect as spending two hours listening to someone complain about nitpicky relationship issues with someone you’ve secretly been in love with for years. “Oh f*ck you” is a perfectly acceptable response. The film surrounding Margot merely treks its way from one romantic dramedy cliché to another, but having no fun in the process. Many films go to great lengths to inspire an emotional response, but annoyance probably shouldn't be a high priority.
Margot, who is ostensibly a writer (we see her at a keyboard once), meets a guy on a trip to Canada. Strangely, they’re on the same plane home. Even more strangely, they’re seated right next to each other. What the hell, they live close enough to share a cab. Holy mother in heaven, he lives across the street. Oh crap weasels, she’s married. Oh f*ck, he doesn’t care, and wheedles her endlessly in an attempt to save Margot from a perfectly appreciable homelife with a charming, laid back husband (Seth Rogen) and an extended family who adores her. Margot spends the bulk of the film debating infidelity, and in the end does what any good romantic lead would do and "listens to her heart" (quotations mine). God, how I hate her.
What’s more, by the end of the film – the very end – it’s clear that writer/director Sarah Polley hates Margot too. Why, then, she wanted to spend the months of pre-production, post-production and everything in between with her is beyond my ken. Sarah Polley seems to be trying to take the piss out of protagonists like this one. It certainly explains why we have to watch her urinate three times. (Oh yes.) Margot is uncomfortable with herself, ruled by fear, and makes sweeping changes to her surroundings to avoid dealing with her own problems. She doesn’t need a man; she needs a halfway decent therapist. And while Polley makes this somewhat subversive stance clear by the time the credits roll, she neglected to make the film preceding those credits an engaging enough, even in the cloying ways Take This Waltz indulges en route to its final argument, to feel worth the trouble.
Filmmakers probably shouldn’t pity their characters; it just makes us resent them both. If Polley had committed to making Margot’s life story the kind of hokey, life-affirming pap Take This Waltz seems to frown upon, then her conclusions could have bordered on profound. Instead the film just feels uncomfortably passive-aggressive from the get-go. Take Polley’s own advice. Away from her. Go!