Photo: Courtesy of The Weinstein Company.
I like Michelle Williams. She's a talented actress and she has a cool haircut. But, I have one problem: She tends to play these characters who put me in a very, very tormented place.
I think the way we as a culture analyze relationships tends to put a lot of blame on women. They're always the one at fault, for example, when a man cheats; women are often blamed for nagging, not appreciating, and not accommodating their male partners. Side-stepping that attitude is something I care about and something I try to be very conscious about doing in my personal life. But, when I watch movies like Take This Waltz and Blue Valentine, I find myself falling back into that hole, and I have a torturous time climbing out. (FYI: Spoiler alerts ahead, but I still think both movies are worth seeing either way).
See, both of these movies feature a female lead who makes a difficult decision to get out of a marriage — but not exactly on a whim. In Take This Waltz, she follows an undeniable passion in a move that's perhaps not responsible or particularly kind, but nonetheless in line with a desire to explore herself and open up a repressed side of her personality. And, ultimately, she does so with compassion towards her husband, played adorably by Seth Rogen. In Blue Valentine, she is a tired, run-down wife and mother who ends up being the responsible "boss" in her child's life while her husband, played even more adorably by Ryan Gosling, gets all the credit for dipping in and having some fun and letting the kid get away with whatever she wants.
And, in that paragraph, I think I've hit on the crux of the problem: adorable male leads. In both cases, the husbands love their wives unconditionally, passionately, almost childishly, and the relationships are clearly very uneven when it comes to reciprocal passion. Their life in Blue Valentine isn't perfect, but somehow Michelle Williams — though her gripes are legitimate on paper — comes off as this horrible (sorry to say it, but it's honestly the word that comes to mind, and I am ashamed of that) bitch. She seems ungrateful, purposefully unhappy, and unaware of just how good she has it. In Take This Waltz, though, it's even worse because her life with her husband is unbelievably perfect. They live in a beautiful, weird house in Toronto; they're happy and goofy and Seth Rogen is writing a chicken cookbook. I am jealous. And, that's why I am so angry at Williams' characters for leaving.
I imagine — I hope! — that screenwriters Derek Cianfrance (Blue Valentine) and Sarah Polley (Take This Waltz) are aware of this push-and-pull with how we want to see a female lead and how we are eventually forced to see her. I can see myself in her place very easily in both films and logically I completely support the belief that she did what had to be done for herself in the best possible way. But, emotionally, while watching, I wanted to scream at her for being stupid and giving up a great thing, something better than she clearly deserved, something she should have been on her knees thanking the heavens to have.
Gratitude — or perhaps more accurately, debt — is no reason to stay in a relationship in real life. I hate the idea that a woman should "hang on to a good man." Why do I feel this way watching these Michelle Williams vehicles play out on screen? Is it because I'm secretly not the advocate for women I want to be? Is it because my crush on Ryan Gosling and Seth Rogen is too strong? Is it because Polley and Cianfrance are messing with my head? Please, watch these movies this weekend and help me understand. I don't support my point of view, I don't accept it, and until now, I haven't advertised it — but I also can't help it.