Music Feature

Film Review: Take This Waltz

by Piers Marchant
A Canadian love story goes awry.

Dir. Sarah Polley
Score: 5.7

To a certain degree, every actor worth their salt has the ability to transform themselves -- whether that transformation results in something directly physical, or more of an emotional mutation -- but truly exceptional actors take it a step further than merely altering their look and immediate body language. In this regard, Michelle Williams remains one of this country's most intriguing young actresses: She doesn't just change her appearance, she inhabits her characters in a way that's both terribly believable and often achingly effective.

In Sarah Polley's film about love and longing in Toronto, Williams plays Margot, a would-be writer, married five years to Lou (Seth Rogen), a kind-hearted writer of cookbooks. Margot is happy but restless, stricken with anxiety about, in her words, "being in-between things", and ultimately "afraid of being afraid." She comes across Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist and rickshaw runner, quite by accident while on assignment in northern Canada. Captivated but self-protective, she's more than content to chalk up her interest as a passing flutter, but when it turns out Daniel literally lives right across the street from her, she is rightfully a good deal more concerned.

With good reason, it turns out, as the relationship between her and Lou is tenuous. Hell-bent on covering up any kind of discord, they're the kind of couple that nearly always seems to be utilizing a shtick of one kind or another ("I would skin you alive with a potato peeler," Margot tells Lou at one point, continuing their ongoing game of ultra-violent sweet talk), like a couple of ever-riffing improv comics perpetually on stage together. Daniel, by contrast, seems to offer something a good deal more adult.

Margot, then, is asked to choose between a childlike haven where everything is a joke or a game, or a grown-up relationship with a man who seems to have a perfect bead on her soul. Or at least, that's the set-up that Polley wants Margot to experience. In reality, both men are a kind of fantasia -- all gorgeous, sun-washed dwellings and perfect decorative appointments (indeed, the art direction for the film must surely have been underwritten by Ikea), and good-looking, resourceful men who feel lucky to have her in their lives. The thing is, if Polley means for Margot to have to decide between the life of a child and that of an adult, Daniel's proposition -- all sex and self-indulgence -- barely gets past the teenage years. Since the stakes of the choice are a good deal less than what Polley intends, it greatly over-shoots its own dynamic. We're watching a young woman with two perfectly reasonable choices agonizing over hurting anyone's feelings.

Even if the trappings are less than perfect, however, Williams is nothing short of compelling. There are moments in the film where she even looks 15, lost, easily startled, completely unsure of herself; and then, by sudden contrast, the child is gone and in its place is a grown woman, confident in her ability to arouse and conceal.

Indeed, Polley pulls strong performances from the trio of protagonists (somewhat less effective with the redoubtable Sarah Silverman -- brave naked shower scene or no -- who is featured in the film's weakest moment near the end, a trumped up, emotionally false bit of melodrama that doesn't work for a second), and clearly has a strong filmmaking eye, it's just that she herself feels too young to work with such ultimately hardened material. Almost like a precocious child in a make-believe game of dress up.

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