TAKE THIS WALTZ written and directed by Sarah Polley, with Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman. A Mongrel Media release. 116 minutes. Opens Friday (June 29). For venues and times, see Movies. Rating: NNN
Sarah Polley is a fairly private person, and given the flurry of gossipy pieces that followed the revelation last September of the dissolution of her first marriage, her remarriage to someone else and her pregnancy, it's tempting to interpret the restlessness and feral eroticism of her second feature, Take This Waltz, as some sort of unconscious confessional.
There might even be some truth to that, given that Take This Waltz is the story of Margot (Michelle Williams), a young Toronto woman who finds herself pulling away from her pleasant but distracted husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), and drawn to an earthy new neighbour, Daniel (Luke Kirby), who pulls a rickshaw and paints and is probably really good with his hands.
Polley's a very smart and considered filmmaker, the sort of director who actually works with actors rather than using them as therapy puppets. And however much of herself she's put into Take This Waltz is really irrelevant once Margot and Daniel begin their epic dance around each other; it becomes its own thing, a powerful and complicated look at the lives of fictional characters who are working out issues that their director has spent a great deal of time thinking about.
Emotional realism is paramount: the playful exchanges between Margot and Lou will have some squirming at her baby talk and his ritualized responses, but that's what intimacy looks like from the outside. And the parallel scenes of Margot and Daniel feeling their way through their initial attraction are just as believable - though I'd argue that Kirby's character is more of an ideal love object than an actual person.
Subject matter aside, Take This Waltz is a far braver picture for Polley than her first feature, the intense but formally safe Away From Her. She takes an impressionistic approach to familiar Toronto locations, with characters drifting through a deserted, early-morning Kensington Market, having emotional breakdowns on the Scrambler on Centre Island, or stopping by an unlikely drum circle at the Trinity Bellwoods dog park.
The movie's structure is similarly unconventional, reaching a note-perfect ending about 90 minutes in and then going for broke with a fourth act that forces the characters to confront the consequences of their actions. I'm not entirely sure Polley accomplishes what she's reaching for, but she's reaching for it, and that makes all the difference.