Sarah Polley has always been an actress I admired. Whether it’s being the lone survivor of a school bus crash or a zombie apocalypse she’s always exuded a certain beautiful world weariness to her roles. In 2006 she brought that same feel to her brilliant and heartbreaking feature directorial debut Away From Her. Not afraid to take on serious and often not discussed topics, this darling of Canadian cinema told the tale of a man whose wife is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Julie Christie earned a well deserved Oscar nomination as did Polley for the screenplay. With that I eagerly awaited her next film.
Take This Waltz is that next film, and unfortunately it’s a bit of a sophomore slump. It tells the story of a seemingly happily married woman, Margot (Michelle Williams) who starts to develop feelings for an artist, Daniel (Luke Kirby), who lives across the street. What I was hoping for was the same honest and intimate look at infidelity that Polley gave to Alzheimer’s. But instead of something raw and natural this film is filled with clichés. It opens with an overwrought airport metaphor for Margot’s feelings on relationships. She is afraid of “connections” — connecting from one flight to another. But the metaphor becomes muddled. Is she afraid of the connection she feels for Daniel or is she afraid to truly make a connection to her husband Lou? It doesn’t help that we are given very little context to Margot and Lou’s history. We know they are in love because they constantly play silly games. Some are cute like a cold water gag Lou pulls in the shower. Others feel labored, like Margot’s constant baby talk. But this is all we really know about their relationship. That could very well be the point, that there isn’t much to the relationship. But if that’s the case what are the stakes of Margot cheating? As it stands there is no real tension or fear to the “affair” until over an hour in when Lou meets his neighbor Daniel for the first time.
Michelle Williams is equally disappointing. Over the last few years she has truly become one of my favorite actresses. She’s a joy to watch in films like Wendy and Lucy or Blue Valentine because of how effortless she plays the parts. How natural she is. Even as Marilyn Monroe Williams played her not as an impression but as a lived in character. That’s why it’s so shocking to see her play Margot with fidgety ticks and forced stammering. The casting of Seth Rogen as Lou is inspired but he’s given very little to do. Occasionally he lets out some familiar Seth Rogen-isms that feel out of a different film. Shockingly the best performance is Sarah Silverman as Margot’s sister in law. She is the only character that is truly honest about who she is. She gives an interesting albeit redundant speech in the film’s final act, which only serves to further hit us over the head with the story’s theme.
The overall issue is that theme. Despite the film’s flaws I felt it was saying something edgy about love and fidelity. That point however is negated in the film’s final shot. There are interesting ideas at play here. There was the potential for it to be another Blue Valentine. But too many of those ideas get lost in a sea of oh so quirky details (Daniel pulls a rickshaw for a day job!). I still believe Polley is a great talent. I just hope her next film goes back to that more natural feel of Away From Her.