A debilitative cinematic disorder we can call ‘the quirk-riddled indie dramedy’ has gnawed at the edges of America’s alternative filmmaking movement for some time now, buoyed by the dreamy stylings of directors such as Miranda July (Me You and Everyone We Know, The Future), Wes Anderson (The Darjeerling Jimited, The Royal Tenenbaums) and Rian Johnson (Brick, The Brothers Bloom).
The movement has spawned various imitators and hangers-on, its air of misty aesthetics and wandering storylines an appealing scent for artists such as actor-cum-filmmaker Sarah Polley, whose Take This Waltz plucks two big name stars — Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen — and drops them into the kind of fuzzy-headed mist of movie melancholia the Australian film industry has been copping flack for for many years.
Polley’s story (she also wrote the screenplay) centers on a love triangle that revolves around the life of protagonist and terminal mope Margot (Michelle Williams) and her two love interests: husband Lou (Rogen) whose full-time job is writing books about different ways to prepare chicken (!) and across the road neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirby), a part-time painter/part-time rickshaw driver (!).
When, early in the film, Daniel shows Margot a portrait he drew of her consisting of two conjoined images and explains that “one half hasn’t lived up to it’s potential,” it becomes disconcertingly obvious right about then that Polley and co. will be flying very close to the sun of scorching quirk. Ensuing windfalls of blearily recited dialogue provide a hipster orgy of soft core verbal fornication splashed with a pseudo intellectual veneer, the kind martians might write if they were trying to make a romantic movie for earthlings.
“I’d like to make an appointment,” Daniel says.
“What kind of appointment?”
“A date to kiss you.”
This conversation is, naturally, followed by some quaint chatter about how that date is actually 50 years in the future because, you know, that would be so very very quirky.
The two hour running time feels like four, burdened by a stuffed Santa sack of expositional chupa chups, from waffling conversations to floaty visuals: underwater shots of swimming pools, characters looking forlorn, moments of inner city stimuli i.e. amusement park rides, etcetera.
Take This Waltz doesn’t convincingly convey the problems in Margot’s marriage and nor does it vividly capture the scent of new romance. Polley’s writing and direction always teeters towards the transparently contrived, when it doesn’t topple over the edge completely — a soap opera for people who don’t watch soap operas; Dawson’s Creek for those who scoff at the prospect of watching James van der Beek, Katie Holmes and — yes — Michelle Williams, shooting the pop culture breeze.
Whatever gravity the film has comes almost entirely from Williams’ glum performance. Sarah Silverman, in a small and superfluous role, also does surprisingly well, and with limited material. But nothing comes close to saving Take This Waltz — another victim of the quirk-riddled indie dramedy.
Take This Waltz’s Australian theatrical release date: June 14, 2012.