Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Misery Waltz

"Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it like some lunatic."

Geraldine (Sarah Silverman)

"Take This Waltz," which premiered on this day at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2011, was an offbeat love story. To be honest, I'm not much of a fan of love stories — as a rule — but this one intrigued me. It was just offbeat enough.

It did have its problems, though. I'll come back to that.

To all outward appearances, Margot (Michelle Williams) had a life that, if not perfect, was a sight better than most. She and her husband of five years (Seth Rogen) had a home in the Little Portugal section of Toronto. She was a freelance writer and, while on a business trip, she met a young man (Luke Kirby) with whom she clearly shared a spark.

Each thought the other looked familiar, but neither knew why. Turned out they lived across the street from each other, creating another complication in Margot's life.

Margot and her husband seemed to have a pretty good marriage. Not ideal — but I don't think I have ever known of a marriage that was ideal. It was unique, as all relationships are. They had their own games that they played with each other. They knew the rules — most of the time — and tended to get upset when the other did something unexpected.

But Margot kept encountering this young man, and they carried on a somewhat flirtatious relationship. Margot clearly was not fulfilled by her marriage, and this young man managed to fill in the gaps.

So well, in fact, that Margot left her husband to be with this other fellow. But she began to regret it.

Now, love triangles are certainly not new to the movies. But in order for them to work it seems that one of the three people has to be unlikable, you know? And that element was missing in this story.

Typically, I suppose, you would expect the husband to come off as the heavy. It would make sense then for the wife to be driven to the arms of another man. But Rogen was a good guy, always working on recipes for his chicken cookbook. He wasn't overbearing. He wasn't emotionally distant. He wasn't abusive. He was attentive and seemed to be trying to be a good husband. My guess would be that most people would consider him good husband material.

When Margot decided to leave him, he was bewildered, trapped in a situation he didn't fully comprehend. "I feel like I never deserved you," he said to Margot.

And Kirby's character wasn't some evil person who simply wanted to mess up a marriage. He was drawn into the relationship as one is usually drawn into such a relationship. It just kind of happened — with a little nudging from Margot.

So, if the two guys were not unlikable, then surely the girl must be the unlikable one. She, after all, was the one who disrupted lives. But how could anyone not like Michelle Williams? She had such a sweet, even innocent quality about her that no one in the audience could possibly dislike her. She didn't want to hurt her husband. It wasn't deliberate.

How could the viewers take sides?

As I watched the movie, it occurred to me that maybe the answer was in the casting. Sarah Silverman played Margot's sister–in–law; the actresses should have switched parts. Silverman always rubs me the wrong way and never more than in this movie. She could have given the role of Margot the kind of treatment it deserved — and someone the audience could root against.

Williams, on the other hand, could have given the role of Geraldine the kind of treatment it deserved. Geraldine was a recovering alcoholic who, while drunk, confronted Margot about her decision to leave her husband. Silverman's Geraldine was already unlikable before the confrontation scene; while she made sense (from her perspective), she wasn't made more likable by doing so. Williams could have made Geraldine more sympathetic.

I could be wrong about that, of course, but I think it would have changed the whole movie — without so much as changing a word of dialogue.