Take This Waltz Review

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Score

In her second feature, Sarah Polley approaches a young couple's romantic crisis with heartbreaking lyricism and intelligence.

"Life has a gap in it. It just does. You don’t go crazy trying to fill it." So says a recovering alcoholic (played by a very watchable Sarah Silverman) in Sarah Polley’s second feature.

It strikes at the film’s heart – whether the gap is between falling head over heels and into a more enduring love (or falling out of it altogether); between settling down and having kids; or between watching your spouse develop Alzheimer’s and inch slowly towards the inevitable.

That was the subject of Away From Her, Polley’s impressive first feature, and here she approaches a much younger couple in crisis with an equally heartbreaking lyricism and intelligence.

Characters in Take This Waltz who don’t mind the gap tend to come unstuck – not least its 28-year-old protagonist, Margot (a tomboyish, elfin Michelle Williams), a freelance journalist married to loveable, kind-hearted cookery writer Lou (Seth Rogen).

When Margot meets an attractive stranger, Daniel (Luke Kirby), on her return from a business trip, she admits to a phobia of the period between check-in and take-off: "I’m afraid of connections... In airports." This metaphor, a little too on-the-nose, is one of several missteps in a film which is otherwise full of perceptive, funny observations about the nature of romantic love and the daily vicissitudes of the human heart.

Following a brief flirtation, Margot discovers Daniel is in fact a close neighbour. With temptation lurking literally yards away, cracks in Margot and Lou’s loving marriage begin to emerge. Polley’s camera frames their domestic set-up in revealing tableaux: the TV stares back at the watching couple, glazed with inertia and familiarity; in bed, the camera faces them square on, bearing down on them with mingled intimacy and claustrophobia.

Margot’s unspoken frustration tinges the couple’s infantilising baby talk; a running pet joke evolves from, "I love you so much I’m going to... mash your head in with a potato masher" to, "I love you so much I’m going to... rape you with a knife until you bleed to death".

The unconsummated passion between Daniel and Margot, who begin a chaste affair, is likewise sublimated, which creates a heightened eroticism expressed not through action but charged words, gestures and glances.

Set in Toronto, Polley’s hometown, and infused with the over-saturated pastels of a sweltering summer in Margot’s Boho neighbourhood, the film sometimes risks looking like a feature-length ad for Hipstamatic, and its attention to detail sometimes feels a little mannered (Daniel, for starters, is a rickshaw driver-cum-aspiring artist).

That said, there are moments of real poetry, including the dreamy impressionism of sequences showing Margot caught in the giddy oblivion of a fairground ride. When Polley finally deploys the Leonard Cohen song of the film’s title, she risks being outshone by a more consummate Canadian artist, but this is a bold film, alive to its own ambiguities and supported by fine lead performances from Rogen and Williams.

As in Away From Her, Polley confronts a ‘gap’ that most conventional dramas overlook altogether, and refuses to turn her head.

Anticipation

It’s been six years since Polley’s distinctive first feature, which set the bar high.

4

Enjoyment

Though occasionally punctured by self-consciousness, this is emotionally layered, probing drama.

3

In Retrospect

Committed and resonant, Take This Waltz gets under your skin – and feels a lot like the work of an auteur in the making.

4
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