Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Take This Waltz

When I consider my favorite films of the summer and of the year to date, I can't help thinking about maturity. When I wrote about Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom a few weeks ago I was won over by the young leads but most impressed by Anderson's understanding of the deep sadness of the adult characters. Moonrise Kingdom seems to mark a new confidence and new possibility in Anderson's career, and now here comes Sarah Polley as writer and director of Take This Waltz. Polley's first directorial effort was the Julie Christie-starring Away From Her, based on an Alice Munro story and revealing Polley as a filmmaker of taste and intelligence. Take This Waltz is an original script full of energy and sexuality, and I feel as though it's here we're really meeting Sarah Polley for the first time.

How fortunate Polley is to have Michelle Williams as her lead; Williams plays an underemployed Toronto writer named Margot and gives a nuanced performance infused with an incredible depth of feeling. In one scene Margot mentions some creative ambition but her main occupation is being a sort of playmate and encourager to her husband Lou (Seth Rogen). Lou is a genial if preoccupied cookbook author whose specialty is chicken, and even if Margot doesn't know it the sameness of both Lou's meals and her marriage are beginning to get to her. Rogen is a quiet surprise here, he turns his comic persona down to a simmer and brings Lou's self-absorption into sharp relief. Polley doesn't provide too much background about why Lou and Margot got married, it only takes a couple of scenes of their baby talk together to put over the idea that there's something missing from this marriage that pleasantness and sex are covering up. Enter Daniel (Luke Kirby), who meets Margot on a plane and turns out to be her neighbor. Daniel and Margot's long mutual seduction (highlighted by a sexy, devastating date over martinis) is more electric than anything Margot has with Lou, but Polley keeps it grounded with false starts and awkward moments. An already much-discussed scene on an amusement park ride is only a moment of fleeting happiness and Williams is brilliant in a scene in Daniel's home where she makes a first darting move. I've seen some criticism that the dialogue in Take This Waltz is too on-the-nose ("I'm afraid of connections," says Margot to Daniel at their first meeting.) but in fact I think the attractiveness of Williams and Kirby doesn't set us up for their inarticulateness. These are people who don't understand their own feelings and to ask them to banter like Nora Ephron is to ask for a different kind of movie. To me the cast, also including Sarah Silverman as Lou's sister, makes Polley's script into something rough-hewn, complicated, and more permanent than the smooth romantic vehicles we encounter so often. The last act of Take This Waltz reveals Margot's choice between Daniel and her husband, and the reality of what follows (revealed in gorgeous montage to Leonard Cohen's performance of the title song) is less interesting than what came before. The final scenes are bracing though. and give way the fact that this is in fact a movie about a woman discovering she doesn't know what she wants. 

There's one other major character in Take This Waltz, and I want badly for Sarah Polley to become the Woody Allen of Toronto. The city is filled with color and a sultry summer energy that suggests so much more than the film can contain. Polley's next film is rumored to be an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, but I hope she'll return to Toronto and dance us through more lives in many films to come.  

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