Canadian film-maker Sarah Polley’s latest film is the long-awaited follow up to Away from Her, the critically acclaimed “Alzheimer’s drama” which saw lead actress Julie Christie lose out to Marion Cotillard’s portrayal Édith Piaf in the 2008 Academy Awards.
Take This Waltz deals with Michelle Williams’ Margot, a Toronto-based writer (aren’t they all) who is at a crossroads in her life. She has been living with her partner Lou (Seth Rogen, a chicken chef) for a few years but is feeling restless. So when she encounters Luke Kirby’s Daniel on a flight back from a travel writing gig in Nova Scotia and learns that he lives across the street, the fuse is lit in the ticking relationship time-bomb. Over the next two hours, the hot and humid Toronto summer provides a perfect backdrop for the impending infidelity. Providing counsel during all this is an under-utilised Sarah Silverman, who shows surprisingly restraint as a recovering alcoholic.
To many people outside of Canada, Polley may only be known as “the woman from Splice or Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead“, but with the success of Away from Her she managed to elevate herself to another level of respect and reveal a very promising film-maker. The question arising now is whether she was just a directorial one-hit wonder who should just stick to acting.
Well let’s start by saying a very definite no. In her second major feature Polley proves herself to be a more than competent director
, for a woman , for a Canadian. Take This Waltz is a truly beautiful film from the opening scene right through to the closing shot before the credits roll, with bright vivid colours giving one of the most attractive depictions of summer life in Canada’s premier city. And I will add that living about a 10-minute bike ride from where most of the film is set made it all the more enjoyable due to the age-old game of “GahIknowthatplace!!”.
But sadly Polley the director seems to be a very different entity to Polley the screenwriter.
My perception of the character of Margot seems to be freakishly similar to that of Charlize Theron’s Mavis from the divisive Young Adult earlier this year. Margot has a perfectly comfortable life and yet yearns for something more. There’s nothing wrong with ambition of course, but to do so in such a mopey, aloof manner really became grating after a while. If her love interest Daniel brought something new to the table then perhaps the viewer’s heart-strings could be pulled on, but he’s really just a typically mysterious “other man” who offers an alternative, rather than a true escape.
What makes it harder to bear is the fact that there’s really nothing here to help the audience know whether we’re meant to pity Margot or hate her for abandoning Lou and his chicken cook-books. I don’t think this is because of some murky morality study into long-term relationships but instead the failings of the writing and the characters involved. These perceived inadequacies in Take this Waltz may well connect with some people who too feel the ongoing need to escape a comfortable existence, but sadly they just didn’t click with me.
Credit as always to Michelle Williams as any empathy you do muster for the character of Margot comes because of her performance. Meanwhile it feels weird to have had a film with both Sarah Silverman and Seth Rogen involved which elicited so few laughs. Both obviously wanted to do a serious dramatic feature, but it still feels like a wasted opportunity to see so little of them on-screen (although we do see all of Silverman and Williams in a strange, slightly out-of-place shower scene. I’ll say no more).
Serious kudos to Polley for making her home-town look so inviting, it’s just a pity that her set of characters don’t do the same.
Canada / Directed By: Sarah Polley / Written By: Sarah Polley / Starring: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman / 116min / Drama / Release: 29 June 2012 (US/Canada), 17 August 2012 (UK/Ireland)