Having been bowled over by Noah Millman’s essay on “Blue Valentine” I’m awaiting eagerly his take on the latest Michelle Williams vehicle, “Take This Waltz.” The latter seems to me more flawed, but similar. The Michelle character falls out of love with her husband (Seth Rogen), who is a good man, and eventually runs off with one of her neighbors, an edgier artiste type. Michelle’s marriage is flawed, Rogen, who plays a successful cookbook author, doesn’t fill in all her gaps conversationally and perhaps spiritually. (Sex seems okay.) But he’s a big friendly bear of guy, loves his wife madly. She’s an aspiring writer working on drudge-making commercial projects.
Michelle, for most of the movie torn between the two men, loves her husband though something is missing. The movie’s flaw is that the answer for the couple is all too obvious: the marriage would be completed by kids, which he doesn’t want for some unexplained reason. It makes no sense–he’s a homebody, everything about him screams “great Dad material,” and yet he is willing to consider maybe, at most, a dog. Without kids the two Toronto yuppies have only one another for mutual joy and comfort amusement and conversation, and this has run out of steam after five years of marriage.
I’d like to see Noah’s take on the film’s Jewish angle. The Rogen character is clearly Jewish (his alcoholic sister played memorably by Sarah Silverman). Though this never comes up explicitly, Michelle Williams seems pretty shiksa-like. It seems to me the ethnic themes could be muted entirely (by making Rogen and his extended family less plainly Jewish) or somehow brought out more. Instead they’re just kind of there, in the background. The wisdom (Jewish naturally) comes at the end of the film when Michelle, apparently not having found lasting happiness with her artiste lover, hints that she might want to return to the nest. Her alcoholic sister-in-law (in the midst of a bender) tells her that there’s no such thing as perfect happiness or a relationship that fills up all the gaps. (It’s better phrased than that–I don’t have a transcript.) And one is left with the sentiment that Michelle Williams is going to be much less fulfilled going forward than her gemutlich ex-husband.
But again, if the message in the movie is praise of stability, making the best of imperfect marriages, and family, why does the character who most embodies this (Rogen) not want children?