Today on Recent Movie Round-Up: Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen 2gether 4eva, dead people being impersonated, missing children being impersonated, and another Truffaut masterwork.
Take This Waltz (Sarah Polley, 2012)
Sarah Polley’s follow-up to Away From Her (Which I talked about last time) takes an interesting twist on the typical movie about infidelity: It’s not even really about infidelity so much as it is about constantly being tempted by it. Michelle Williams plays Margot, a woman who is happily married to her husband Lou (Seth Rogen) until a desire starts flaring up between her and their neighbor right across the street. Played by Luke Kirby, he is an expertly, slow, and patient seducer who ropes Margot in with his clear passion. He seems to be a nice, steamy alternative to Lou, who is the nicest guy in the world but doesn’t have that same sensual passion (Their marriage almost creepily feels more like a brother/sister relationship).
Take This Waltz is one of the best films of the year. I wouldn’t put it in my top 10 (It just goes to show how much amazing stuff came out this year) but it’s certainly a worthy, honorable mention. On paper, this shouldn’t work. If you think about it, the character of Margot is inherently unlikable. A well-off white woman with a loving husband who has to choose between him and another amazing man? Oh, the drama, right? In actuality, the movie feels very authentic because it uses this conceit to explore whether a loving relationship really is enough to satisfy an individual, and because it is anchored by terrific performances by Michelle Williams and a surprisingly warm, sometimes dramatic turn from Seth Rogen.
Hell, Michelle Williams may just be the main reason why this whole movie works. Again, this isn’t a “likable” character by definition, but we sympathize with her because, well, Michelle Williams is literally one of the most lovable actresses in history, alive or dead. Her work here is, dare I say it, Oscar-worthy in how it captures the nuance and emotional turmoil of such a situation without making it feel insufferable or like a soap-opera. Seth Rogen is likable as always, but what makes this different from his other roles is its understatement and quiet kindness compared to his usual lewd, bombastic nature. Hell, when it comes time for him to show off his dramatic chops, he impresses. The biggest surprise is Luke Kirby, who just comes out of nowhere with a performance so insanely charismatic that you can buy him being able to seduce Michelle Williams. His character is pretty hard to swallow (His job is as a rickshaw driver and he manages to have a nice, moderately expensive house), but in terms of his personality, Kirby nails it.
All in all, this is another win for writer/director Sarah Polley, who continues to make lovely, understated, elegant dramas about authentic relationships in turmoil. I’m definitely in for seeing what she does next…
Alps (Giorgos Lanthimos, 2012)
Wanna know how much I love Giorgos Lanthimos’s absurdist pitch-black comedyDogtooth which came out in 2010? It was in my top 5 of that year and my favorite foreign feature as well. Everything about its oddness raised deeply unsettling questions about nature vs. nurture, the extent of control, and the psychological mindset of children in an incredibly disturbing fashion. Yet, unlike most disturbing films, I’ve actually seen it twice and enjoyed myself each time thanks to the wickedly dark comedy.
So expectations were high for Lanthimos’s next film Alps, which had a killer premise: An underground company offers the service of impersonating dead loved ones in order to help coping grievers. Considering how Dogtooth handled similarly strange material, I was excited to see how Lanthimos would go crazy this time. However, I was surprised by how much more restrained this film is compared to Dogtooth. It’s not nearly as weird or insane (Though it certainly has its stand-out moments) but it’s just as psychologically complex, really examining the effects of grief, identity, and death in a strange and unique fashion.
If there’s a flaw, it’s that it doesn’t have the emotional punch that Dogtooth had. Alps is a very cold film that treats its characters as guinea pigs in a sadistic psychological experiment. It only examines, and is completely objective, and never for a single second puts us in the shoes of its characters nor does it allow us to sympathize with them. This is definitely what Lanthimos is going for, but considering the subject matter, a slightly more humanistic approach would’ve been better. Still though, this is an offbeat film that intrigues just as much as it entertains with is weirdness. Not quite Dogtooth, but certainly stands on its own.
The Imposter (Bart Layton, 2012)
Bart Layton’s The Imposter is one of the most unbelievably fascinating documentaries I’ve ever seen. The true story behind it is so bizarre that it really has to be true: A young boy goes missing, the family grieves, is discovered again in Spain after three years of absence, and soon the family discovers that this kid they have picked up may not even be their son at all.
What transpires is a hell of a story that unfolds with an incredibly amount of precision. The use of reenactments is brilliantly done, looking just as professionally made as a slick Hollywood production without masking the real truth of the story as it weaves in the talking-head interviews.
But perhaps the most incredible feat of this movie, it’s the only documentary I’ve ever seen that has an unreliable narrator. I won’t give away how this works, but let’s just say that it’s vital to the film’s message that the movie ends up cheating the viewer, because it truly does allow us to understand what it was this family had to go through. See it and be surprised for yourself.
The Last Metro (Francois Truffaut, 1980)
As far as depictions of the Nazi occupation go, don’t be expecting something overly bleak. Despite being the director of The 400 Blows, the majority of Truffaut’s latter films were all very light in tone and The Last Metro is no different. While it doesn’t have the depth of his masterpieces, you can always count on Truffaut to make an incredibly lovable, entertaining film. And The Last Metro is rife with great characters, well-meaning humor, and a simple yet well-done story. To top it all off, Catherine Deneuve’s performance elevates it to a whole ‘nother level, creating an incredible female character who is genuinely strong-willed and fascinating to watch.
Tune in next time on Recent Movie Round-Up, for I will be going through the entire Extended Lord of the Rings trilogy to prepare or The Hobbit. Get excited!