Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen. Written and directed by Sarah Polley. 18A. 116 min. Opens June 29.
Though admirable for its emotional and sexual frankness, Sarah Polley’s second feature can also feel as conflicted as its heroine, a young woman whose quest for romantic and personal fulfillment contains aspects that are troubling and potentially self-destructive. In that respect, Polley displays a courageous willingness to throw a curveball at the admirers she made with Away From Her, her much softer-hearted directorial debut. Polley has also created one of the most luminously gorgeous depictions of Toronto ever seen on screen by favouring a sun-baked look for locations like Kensington Market, Little Italy, and Kew Beach.
Looking nearly as summery, Michelle Williams stars as Margot, a writer of tourist pamphlets who lives a seemingly contented existence with her husband Lou (an unschlubby Seth Rogen in the film’s best performance). But Margot is unsettled by her intensifying attraction to Daniel (Luke Kirby), the rickshaw driver-cum-sensitive-artist type who lives across the street. Though wracked with guilt, Margot clearly longs for the new and different life that Daniel represents.
Polley has considerable success with her attempts to subvert Take This Waltz’s more conventional trappings as a romantic dramedy by embracing a surprisingly dyspeptic take on love and lust. Lou’s sister, Geraldine (Sarah Silverman, also playing it straight), summarizes the prevailing attitude with this piece of advice: “Life has a gap in it, it just does—you don’t go trying to fill it like some lunatic.” But for every scene that lays the characters bare in a way that’s fresh, funny, and startling, there’s another that feels overwritten, cutesy, or excessively mannered.
That said, there’s much to appreciate about Take This Waltz, especially its candour about contemporary mores and its eagerness to put its characters (and its viewers) in uncomfortable positions. Few recent movies have so strongly conveyed the exhilaration of falling in love, as well as the less-pleasant emotions and repercussions that go along with any headlong plummet into the unknown.