Toronto: Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz," a daring contemporary love story, is one of 2011's most memorable films
TORONTO — This year’s film festival on the north shore of Lake Ontario has featured several major movies that sparked divisive reactions. I’ve heard sharply divergent opinions expressed about George Clooney’s “The Ides of March,” Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants,” Steve McQueen’s “Shame” and David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” just to name a handful. But the most telling dichotomy of all may surround “Take This Waltz,” the second feature from actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley, which pushes the female-centric relationship movie into adventurous new territory. (At this writing, there’s still no news about United States distribution for this movie, but one way or another you should be able to see it soon.)
Well, you can put me down in the “yes” column, big time. Featuring the reliably terrific Michelle Williams in one of her best roles, as a hipsterized, slightly unhinged woman who got married too young and meets a mysterious stranger who makes her regret it, “Take This Waltz” is frank, erotic, often very funny and sometimes startling, with an underlying tragic sensibility. Polley has a wonderful ear for dialogue and an even better eye for the nuances of character and relationship. While some viewers here clearly found this film both cloying and off-putting, I found it to be a thrilling and unpredictable ride with a character you’re never quite sure about. It’s now clear that Polley’s assured first feature, “Away From Her,” was not a fluke, and very suddenly she looks like one of the most interesting indie auteurs on the North American scene.
Admittedly, “Take This Waltz” had a big advantage at this festival. Polley is Canadian and the film was largely shot in Toronto, showing off the city’s attractive inner neighborhoods, with their attached rowhouses, deep porches and vaguely funky vibe. Borrow a Leonard Cohen song for the title, and there’s simply no way the movie was not going to be embraced by Canadian audiences. But there’s nothing specifically Torontonian about the complicated performances Polley gets from her cast, or her often thrilling use of pop music, or the combination of humor, sympathy and dispassion with which she views Margot, Williams’ character. Some people here were eager to discuss “Take This Waltz” in light of the fact that Polley herself was recently divorced and remarried, and here’s what I have to say about that: a) Sure, of course; b) Male artists have channeled autobiography into their work for millennia, and it’s largely a question of how well you do it; and c) This film doesn’t feel like therapy, or at least it’s therapy of a very high order.
When we first meet Margot and her husband, Lou (played by Seth Rogen, who is so good here I almost forgave him for “Green Hornet”; can someone drag him away from dude comedies permanently?), they seem pretty much OK, certainly better than some other couples you and I have known. She has some kind of dead-endish copywriting job with Parks Canada (equivalent to the National Park Service), and he’s writing a cookbook about chicken. You might not think there’s all that much comic and/or symbolic gold to be mined in such a dumb, basic gag — Lou’s a great cook but only makes chicken, night after night after night — but you would be wrong. Sure, Lou and Margot have some weird little passive-aggressive private games, like the one where they talk about how they’re going to maim and murder each other, or the one where they tell each other they love each other in little baby-alien voices. (Almost anyone who’s ever been in a marriage or long-term relationship will wince with some degree of painful recognition.)
Thing is, by the time we meet Margot and Lou, we already know that Margot has met someone else and that it threatens to be serious. And also that she’s kind of a flake. She bumped into slim, dark and diffident Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a business trip to Cape Breton Island, a familiar tourist destination in Nova Scotia. Then she bumped into him again on the plane coming home and flirted outrageously, and then they shared a cab — and only when they found out that they lived across the street from each other in Toronto did she ‘fess up that she was married. That deters Daniel only a little, and then they start “running into each other” on the street almost every day, and then she goes out for a coffee date with him and sits there saying almost nothing while Daniel explains, in intimate detail, what he’d like to do to her. Throughout Daniel and Margot’s courtship, Polley’s dialogue crackles with energy, and regardless of your gender or orientation, that scene is one of the sexiest purely verbal episodes in the history of cinema.
Margot’s predicament is a familiar one for characters in novels written by women with three names, or protagonists of Lifetime movies: the dull but likable guy I’ve already got, or the handsome and mysterious stranger who turns me on? But to see it applied to a highly believable contemporary young woman — and not necessarily the most sane or reliable member of the species — feels almost like a radical departure. “Take This Waltz” is ambitious both cinematically and emotionally, and poses the kinds of questions about love and sex and duty and responsibility for which life does not provide reliable answers. With its potent central triangle and a supporting cast headed by Sarah Silverman (as Margot’s alcoholic sister-in-law), “Take This Waltz” is a heartbreaking love story set in a world where every choice you make has serious consequences and “happily ever after” is an unlikely outcome. It’s definitely not a movie for everyone — but if it’s for you, you’ll never forget it.
More Related Stories
- Cannes: Directing 101 with James Franco
- Welcome to the jungle: The definitive oral history of '80s metal
- Burt Bacharach opens up on daughter's suicide
- Steven Spielberg to produce "Halo" television series
- Amazon set to launch fine-art gallery
- Twitter torches Dan Brown's "Inferno"
- Brad Pitt keeps breaking his silence on how boring marriage to Jennifer Aniston was
- Lars von Trier's "Nymphomaniac" to use porn star body doubles
- New Beyoncé single leaked
- The sweet, sure to be short-lived "The Goodwin Games"
- Damon Lindelof admits barely-clothed scene in "Star Trek" was "gratuitous"
- Justin Timberlake: I'm a mediocre folk singer!
- Ray Manzarek, founding member of The Doors, dies at 74
- Beware of book blurbs
- Did a Salon excerpt ruin Penn Jillette's chance to win "Celebrity Apprentice"?
- Zach Galifianakis to take formerly homeless woman to "Hangover 3" premiere
- Seth MacFarlane will not host Oscars again
- "SNL's" uncomfortable Garner/Affleck moment
- "Celebrity Apprentice" finale ratings hit a new low
- Worst National Anthem fails
- The truth in Kanye's anti-prison rap
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11