“Take This Waltz”
Directed by Sarah Polley
Magnolia Pictures (116 mins.)
Many know “Take This Waltz” writer/director Sarah Polley only in an acting capacity, and she’s shined in genre fare like the “Dawn of the Dead” remake and “Splice.” However, those unfamiliar with her directorial work are missing an entirely new side to Polley, the delicate way she lets her stories unfurl and the depths of her emphatic understanding of her characters. With “Take This Waltz,” Polley has created a measured, beautifully detailed and deeply moving story that’s easily one of the year’s best.
Set in Toronto (Polley’s hometown), “Take This Waltz” quickly introduces us to Margot (Michelle Williams), a traveling writer who meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a plane. Their chemistry is immediate, but then she drops the bomb – she’s happily married to Lou (Seth Rogen). When he replies by telling her he lives across the street, Margot finds herself letting her marriage chafe and harden as her attraction to Daniel grows.
What makes this such a noteworthy film is how it approaches its central dilemma. It would have been easy to make Lou a jerk or an oaf, and even easier to make Daniel an obvious villain, but Polley brings astounding nuance and wisdom to her characters. Her script is wonderfully observant, loaded with layered, smart dialogue, and it does a great job setting up tiny character beats, like a recurring joke Lou plays on Margot, only to pay them off with devastating effect. She also shows some impressive directorial acumen in small moments like Lou and Margot waking up in bed together with beaming smiles in the film’s early going or in bigger moments, like a pivotal, gorgeously stylish sequence using the Leonard Cohen song that gives the film its title.
Polley’s script is an actress’ feast, and Michelle Williams does an undeniably incredible job bringing Margot to life. There aren’t enough good words to write about Williams here, and her performance is deeply emotive; every wave of anxiety, regret and desire is reflected in her face and eyes. Margot’s life is laid out like a fairy tale, her neighborhood bursting with vibrant colors, her life full of friends and even an unlikely Prince Charming. But she can’t deny the crackling rush Daniel makes her feel, and Williams makes every step Margot takes into his arms a visible compromise, another deal she makes with herself. Once the weight of what she’s doing hits, it’s a powerful moment played with real anguish from Williams.
As the two men in Margot’s life, Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby shine in very different ways. Rogen’s always had a certain sweetness to his characters, but it’s usually been offset with a half-baked immaturity. Lou is like one of Rogen’s Apatowian man-children five years after he grows up and gets the girl and the credits roll, comfortable with his wife, competent and even surprisingly dashing at times. Kirby is effective as well, and Daniel is smart and quietly predatory, his aggressions restrained in everything but their subtext. It’s a performance that straddles the line between skeevy and romantic, and Kirby brings a charm to the role that makes Margot’s attraction not just understandable, but inevitable. Sarah Silverman rounds out the cast as Lou’s sister, a recovering alcoholic whose arc has a pronounced parallel with Margot’s, and she does perceptive, heartbreaking work.
“Take This Waltz” can boast a quartet of strong, moving performances, but special recognition must be given to Sarah Polley. The film feels so deeply personal and intimate, and Polley fully understands these characters and what makes them tick. Each audience member will get a different sum from the equation that Polley lays out for these characters, and this is absolutely a film where the personal experience one brings into the theater with them will be just as important as the film itself to their reaction. No matter what, the fact that “Take This Waltz” manages to make such a standard story so vibrant and fascinating, and its characters so specific yet relatable, easily makes it the best film you’ll have the chance to see this weekend.