Saturday, August 4, 2012

Review: "Take This Waltz"

In 2006 Sarah Polley captivated audiences with her debut feature Away From Her, featuring the year's best performance from Julie Christie (who was upset by Marion Cotillard for the Academy Award). Away From Her is an All-Canadian film. Polley adapted the screenplay from celebrated author Alice Munro's short story The Bear Came Over the Mountain. Sarah Polley was immediately hailed as Canada's next big director and went on to be nominated for an Oscar for her adapted screenplay. This is the same girl who became Canada's sweetheart in the early 1990s on Road to Avonlea - a series fondly remembered by yours truly. Take This Waltz is the second feature from Polley and it premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Almost a full year later, the film was released in North American markets. The film did not resonate as well as Away From Her with critics, but Mongrel Media, the film's Canadian distributor, should have handled the release much better. There was, if memory serves, a very limited release at the Bell Lightbox theatre in Toronto in late winter. The film stars Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen as a married couple living in Toronto's Little Portugal. Williams, Hollywood's darling, is not my favourite actress. Only once, in Blue Valentine, did I ever fall victim to her allure. I really do not think that she was the right casting choice for this film. Seth Rogen, on the other hand, worked perfectly, even if his character was underused. One major diffrence between this and Away From Her is that Take This Waltz is based on Polley's original screenplay. My chief complaint is that the story lacks too much focus as it labours towards its climax. I may not be the greatest champion of Canadian film, but Sarah Polley has a voice that deserves to be heard. I almost envision her as a protegee of Atom Egoyan, who directed Polley in 1997's The Sweet Hereafter. Take This Waltz does not have the same focus and precision of Away From Her, but it still a beautifully told story from a Canadian director who is still learning to hone her craft.

Margot (Williams) is married to Lou (Rogen) and they live in Toronto. Margot works for Parks Canada and designs brochures. Lou is in the midst of writing a cookbook about chicken. They live in a nice neighbourhood in a very eclectically-styled house full of warmth colour. They have been married for a number of years and Lou has stated he does not want to consider having kids for at least six years. While on a tour at the Fortress of Louisburg, on Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby). They have an uncomfortable first meeting made more awkward when they are seat partners on a flight back to Toronto. Margot realizes, and it is obvious in her eyes, that she is very attracted to Daniel. The two share a cab ride downtown, and Margot learns that Daniel lives "very close" to her. Margot reveals that she is married just before she gets out of the taxi, which visibly disappoints Daniel. And then it turns out that he lives right across the street from her. Margot returns home to Lou and the quiet monotony of her marriage. She becomes increasingly restless, made stronger by the fact that Daniel continues to chase her.

Take This Waltz is a beautifully quiet film that could have been one of the year's best from a more seasoned director. Polley lingers a little long on some scenes and, at times, Margot's marriage to Lou is too childlike and immature. It becomes easy to understand why Margot might have fantasies of leaving her marriage. Roger Ebert wonders, in his three-star review, if Michelle Williams is too lovable an actress for the role of Margot. Obviously he and I disagree, but the sentiment is the same. Michelle Williams was not the best choice. I was quite surprised by Sarah Silverman, as I had reservations about her role in such a serious film. She plays Geraldine, Lou's sister, and confidante of Margot, and gives a wonderfully layered performance. There is a scene, perhaps the most controversial, after Margot and Geraldine have gone to aquafit. Polley filmed a scene in the women's locker room in which Silverman and Polly (and a group of other women) shower and converse. There is a lot of nudity from women of all shapes and sizes. It has been said that Polley wanted to film a scene where women were naked and it was completely nonsexual. Take This Waltz is much more about story and plot than about character development. Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen are not asked to do much as actors except make forlorn facial expressions. The film is beautifully shot and bathes Toronto in beautiful light, but I wanted more from the actors. I was not disappointed by the film because I did not have huge expectations when I heard Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen were working with Sarah Polley. Do not go see Take This Waltz if you expect the same magic as Away From Her. It is a heart-wrenching as told through Sarah Polley's unique direction. I hope that Polley's next venture as director returns to a more character-driven film.

My rating: A soft 3 stars out of 4.

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