The Daily Stream: Take This Waltz Dances Around The Ennui Of Romance

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Take This Waltz"

Where You Can Stream It: Hulu

The Pitch: On a business trip for her job writing tourist pamphlets, Margot (Michelle Williams) has a meet-cute with Daniel (Luke Kirby), a fellow traveler with whom she strikes up an instant connection. On her flight home, Daniel happens to sit right next to her, and they bicker a little and flirt, cracking jokes and revealing intimate secrets. They share a cab from the airport together and discover that they live just next door to each other. But just as they leave the cab, the illusion breaks: Margot blurts out to Daniel that she's married, and he responds with sad surprise.

But this is not the end of their non-affair. As Margot returns to her loving but inattentive husband Lou (a perfectly likable Seth Rogen), her passing flirtations and run-ins with Daniel become more intense, until she finds herself torn between the comfort of her familiar but staid married life, and a new love. But whether this will put a stop to her restlessness is another story.

Why it's essential viewing

Directed by Sarah Polley, "Take This Waltz" plays with the trappings of the romantic comedy to explore a woman's eternal ennui. By all accounts, Margot has a happy life: she has a husband who loves her and cooks for her, they have irritating inside jokes that only make sense to them, she lives in a charming and unusually spacious Toronto house on a freelance writer's salary. But her husband Lou only cooks chicken (hilariously, he's working on a chicken-only cookbook), those inside jokes have grown stale, and for some reason, she just can't sit still.

"What's wrong with you? You seem restless ... generally," Daniel tells Margot.

Margot chalks it up to the "momentary melancholy" of being alive, which she tries to fill by orchestrating special moments with Lou, and when those fall flat, with these charged interactions with Daniel. Margot and Daniel do this dance throughout the film — flirting and falling, but never doing anything untoward, in one of those great cinematic depictions of mutual yearning that feel even more sensual than any graphic sex scene (which the film even draws attention to, in an explicit but unerotic, bittersweet montage that earned some polarizing reactions upon the film's release in 2011). Michelle Williams is magical as Margot, sweet and cherubic, but always carrying with her a slight edge as she grows increasingly embittered with her marriage. And as her constant screen partner, Kirby is electric, honing that soul-piercing stare and sheepish flirtatiousness that he would perfect in "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel."

Polley's delicate screenplay counterbalances the sheer romance of watching two beautiful people falling in love with the discomfort of waiting for a married woman to cheat, peeling these complicated interactions down to their basics: the dull ache of dissatisfaction. The sharp, ecstatic jolt of something new.


"I don't like being in between things," Margot confesses to Daniel during their first meeting. She's talking about her fear of airports, of missing her layover and potentially getting lost in an airport terminal until she rots and dies, forgotten. But it also applies to her own life and her own fear of being bored and trapped in her relationships, romantic or otherwise. She's constantly trying to overcome it, which her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) scolds her for, telling her to accept that "life has a gap." In a way, Margot's innate restlessness feels like the predecessor to "The Worst Person in the World," a similarly anti-romantic comedy that depicts the unmoored angst of millennial romance.

It's a restlessness that is beautifully depicted in two of the film's best scenes: a tilt-a-whirl ride set to The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star." On one of their platonic non-dates, Margot and Daniel board the tilt-a-whirl, and are awash in bright dancing lights and peppy music, as the ride pushes them back and forth until their shoulders brush. They stare wordlessly at each other, their burning eyes telling us all we need to know about what they're thinking, when suddenly — the music stops and the fantasy breaks again, the hum of the outdoor carnival and the harsh fluorescent light bringing reality crashing down again.

These brief escapes are just that: escapes. Margot cannot keep the dullness of reality at bay with the highs of exciting new romances or darkened amusement park rides. At the end of the film, Margot boards the tilt-a-whirl once again, this time alone. She closes her eyes, smiles, and sways to the music as the ride pushes her back and forth. Never still.