By Joan Ellis
Take This Waltz is about love and infidelity, but that tells you next to nothing about what unfolds here. Let’s look at the bare bones before taking a stab at figuring out what Canadian director Sarah Polley is really up to.
Margot (Michelle Williams) is married to Lou (Seth Rogen). They live in affectionate harmony in a comfortable house on a Toronto street. We learn, through gesture and expression, that each does indeed love the other. Daniel (Luke Kirby) lives across the street in a house where he paints without trying to sell. By day he pulls a rickshaw through the streets of Toronto to support himself. When Margot and Daniel meet, the waves crash for both of them, but Daniel respects the reality of her love for her husband Lou.
As the movie wends its way slowly through mutual restraint and longing, we realize that Sarah Polley, who wrote and directed, is deliberate and exacting in every move she makes. We become absorbed by her technique with light and camera movement. This leaves us with the pleasure of watching her create an underwater lovers’ ballet, a wildly interesting palette of colors, and the realization of a sexual fantasy.
As a writer, she has decided not to give us the keys to her characters through dialogue. When they do speak, which is infrequently, they weigh their remarks carefully, trying to stay in tune with instructions from their inner selves. As you might imagine, this creates confusion in the audience. We are watching three characters who are unable to give voice to any of their inner turmoil.
Although Seth Rogen and Luke Kirby create men who respect each other even when they want the same woman, we don’t learn enough about their characters to really care about them. Michelle Williams’ Margot prattles on about things that have little to do with her traumatic indecision while trying to convey her emotional distress through glances and jokes. Sarah Silverman wins our appreciation by injecting the sting of candor into this otherwise confusing stew of emotions. As a collection of people in a theater hoping for the best, we remain curiously uninvolved despite the abilities of the actors involved.
The audience is left to wonder what inner void has made Margot so vulnerable to the man across the street. Does she have any compelling interest to carry her through her days? Is she losing respect for her husband who writes cookbooks specializing in chicken? Is their silent anniversary dinner the symbol of deep boredom? Who is Daniel anyway?
Perhaps Sarah Polley’s game is one of floating big questions about the current state of marriage, an invitation to reexamine its restrictions. Margot and Lou are, after all, a pretty ordinary couple and Daniel is a nice symbol for whoever might come along to blow apart the jailhouse door. One thing is clear: writer/director Sarah Polley is not an ordinary person.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.