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.
It’s been six years since Polley’s distinctive first feature, which set the bar high.
Though occasionally punctured by self-consciousness, this is emotionally layered, probing drama.
Committed and resonant, Take This Waltz gets under your skin – and feels a lot like the work of an auteur in the making.