By: Addison Wylie
Sarah Polley has not only made an impression with her acting career but in 2007, she proved that she’s as competent behind the camera as she is in front. Away From Her was a heartbreaking film where a devoted husband watches his Alzheimers suffering wife fall in love with another man.
Polley was able to pull excellent performances from both of her leads. Gordon Pinsent was phenomenal and Julie Christie earned herself a much deserved Academy Award nomination. Along with the strong performances, Polley was also able to display subtlety among her direction while pairing it up with alluring cinematography. With her latest feature Take This Waltz, Polley brings some of that same subtlety to a much lighter mood that shouldn’t be dismissed as fluff.
It may be a odd movie and director to draw from but I recently heard a great quote from Comedian Louis CK as he talked about the nightmarish environment of Pootie Tang. In an interview with fellow Comedian Jim Norton, CK wishes he would get another chance to direct a second project and says, “it’s better to have made two movies than one movie.” This way, people can make a more concrete decision on one’s ability to direct.
Here, is a great example of that well thought out logic. Where Away From Her was an emotionally distressing but strong piece of work, Take This Waltz is a cute and limber story about having the choice in a relationship to stay with the way things are or take certain risks. We see that Polley can successfully tackle a heartbreaking drama and succeed in the romantic dramedy genre as well.
Take This Waltz is about a relationship between Margot and Lou, played by Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen; two odd people that are very much in love.
But when Margot meets her neighbour ,Daniel, played by Luke Kirby, through a series of coincidental situations, she soon finds out that he’s the perfect guy. He listens, he’s funny, he’s handsome, all he’s missing is his shining armour.
When Margot feels distance growing between herself and Lou, she starts getting together with Daniel a lot more and soon their relationship grows to a point where Margot has to make a risky decision.
I really liked Take This Waltz. Polley’s script is very funny and the majority of interactions between the characters are filled with natural human emotion. Natural. Let’s remember that word for later in the review.
There are only some exchanges that feel too set up for the sake of building a sort of sweetness between Margot and Daniel but as far as the rest of the film goes, a lot rings true.
It also helps that the film has a very strong ensemble. Williams is as cute as a button in a whimsical role that doesn’t necessarily play on quirks. With Funny People, 50/50, and now this, Rogen continues to show that he’s very interested in breaking away from the stoner persona many know him for and he’s equally as good here. Comedian Sarah Silverman shows up and is very effective in the handful of scenes she has.
Let me swing back to Rogen though. The main and only real problem I have with Take This Waltz is that I was more interested in the relationship between Rogen and Williams than I was when the film would focus on Kirby’s relationship with Williams. Although Polley’s script has many great moments, it all too often becomes a typical romance novel when Margot and Daniel are together. The character of Daniel is plucked out of a typical run-of-the-mill romantic comedy. He’s written and portrayed as a fabricated flawless fantasy.
Even if Kirby’s character is drawn from Margot’s point of view in regards to how dashing he is, the movie doesn’t provide enough for me as the viewer to ditch Lou and want Margot to end up with Daniel. In fact, and tell me if I’m being a jerk when you see the film, but Lou doesn’t necessarily do anything nasty. And if he does something wrong, it’s nothing a simple talk couldn’t solve. Nothing ever solidly backs up Williams’ motives to humour the notion of leaving Lou.
It’s as if the two relationships are drawn from two different movies. Rogen and Williams are from a far more interesting indie film while the Kirby and Williams relationship is nothing we couldn’t find in the latest Katherine Heigel clunker, or worse, a past Debra Messing NO-mantic “comedy”.
When the film isn’t trying to make 40-something year old Fabio die-hards swoon, the film has a rich feeling of natural authenticity (see, I told you to hang onto that word). There’s a much talked about scene involving a very naked Michelle Williams and, to much surprise, a very naked Sarah Silverman showering after a swim aerobics session (a scene that is so funny, I’ll spare describing it. All I have to say is, casting directors should give the actor starring as the swimming instructor more work).
What Polley does so well with this scene, and in other scenes involving sexual content, is that she puts the nudity in the background and brings the story and dialogue to the forefront. Most comedies nowadays want all the attention on the images on screen while the leading characters toss away dialogue or jokes. Here, it’s quickly realized that these people are showering and instead of being perplexed by the bodies, we grow used to the flesh and we’re more interested at what these women are saying because the dialogue is so thoughtful.
Every so often, Polley will linger on certain shots (like one too many quiet moments in the shower or Daniel and Margot laughing and smiling on a carnival ride) but Polley is aware she needs to keep the story going and makes sure these slips don’t become a bad habit. Now, if only she would put this logic towards those drawn out monologues between Daniel and Margot.
In regards to the conventional rom-com balderdash, the film does halfway redeem itself towards the end and faces certain choices and looks at them in an honest way which I do appreciate. I do feel that there’s a lot of great stuff here and I’d happily recommend the movie to couples looking for a cute film. If this was opening on Valentine’s Day, Polley may have had a hit on her hands.
However, with the wide North American release still in question, who knows when this film will hit theatres. I saw this at a special screening at the TIFF BELL Lightbox in Toronto. The theatre was holding a showcase remembering the best films shown in 2011. It’s not high on any year-end lists for me but I do think Polley’s film is very good. As for the rest of you movie goers, when Take This Waltz does come out, check it out because Polley is saying something very smart here under the romance novel fantasies.