There is so much that is delicate and soft, so much that is hurtful and hard about love when filmmaker Sarah Polley gets her hands on it.
She has done it again in “Take This Waltz,” which stars Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby and Seth Rogen in the story of the death of a marriage and the emotional dance it took to get there.
Williams, in another head-turning role, is 28-year-old Margot. She is almost five years into a playful relationship with husband Lou (Rogen), an author-chef working on a cookbook devoted to chicken (there’s a point being made). She sets off for a travel piece she’s writing. The destination is Louisbourg, Nova Scotia, one of those dressed-up villages with actors and props conjuring up simpler times.
Margot is in a gray area, nagged by a subtle discontent she can’t quite put her finger on – one that takes on many shades throughout the film. But this also is a story about the many shades of infidelity, and Polley, who wrote and directed, is setting up the question of it – to taste the forbidden fruit or not. The film waltzes around this in both predictable and unpredictable ways.
At the village, Margot has a brief brush with a good-looking guy, Daniel (an excellent Kirby). He turns up again as her seatmate on the flight home where a little conversation and a lot of electricity passes between them.
Back in Toronto, a shared cab ride home takes them unexpectedly to the same street – he’s an artist who has just moved into the neighborhood. Just as he gets out of the cab, she says she is married. He hadn’t asked.
For all of the beautiful dialogue Polley has written in “Take This Waltz,” and there is enough that the script earned a spot on the 2009 Black List of Hollywood’s best unproduced screenplays, the filmmaker often communicates better without words. Margot always looks dreamy and distracted. She’s drifting aimlessly, and the beautiful opening sequence speaks to that as she goes through the motions of making blueberry muffins on a hot summer day.
Lou spends hours cutting and cooking chicken, rarely moving from a single spot, telegraphing a sense of someone who knows exactly who he is and what he wants in life. When he says to Margot, “We don’t need to talk, we know everything about each other,” he believes that is a good thing.
Rogen has dialed it down to play Lou, and he emerges as a stronger actor for it. In every move, Kirby (“Mambo Italiano,” “The Samaritan”) has given Daniel a determined intensity in his paintings and in the way he pursues Margot. A seduction scene in a bar when there are only words and not a single touch is made incredibly provocative by those choices.
Polley is concerned with the idea of how uncomfortable humans are with ambiguity, which is fine as a thematic element but more difficult to pull off as a narrative style. It works more than it doesn’t.
There are other players in the drama, most notably comic Sarah Silverman. Like Rogen, she has tapped into a completely different side. She plays Lou’s sister Geraldine, another young wife but with the add-ons of two kids, a devoted husband and a serious alcohol problem.
Williams is a wonder to watch. It seems she has the capacity to literally shed her own skin, so fully does she step into her roles, with three Oscar nominations under her belt (“Brokeback Mountain,” Blue Valentine” and “My Week With Marilyn”).
In “Waltz,” Williams is wobbling on an emotional high wire refusing to look down. There is some fancy camera work Polley uses to give a glimpse of how things are playing out in the long run. But somehow it is the waiting – for the fall that you expect is coming, for the marriage you figure will fall apart – that makes “Take This Waltz” one to make room for on your dance card. ‘TAKE THIS WALTZ’
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Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Director: Sarah Polley
Running time: 1:56
Rated: R; language, strong sexual content, graphic nudity