The illusion of love, actually
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, July 6, 2012
Filmmaker Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” is the anatomy of a love triangle, in some ways reminiscent of the actress-filmmaker’s sensitive directorial debut, “Away From Her.” Unlike that 2006 film -- which centered on an older man coming to terms with the relationship his senile wife has begun with a fellow nursing-home patient -- “Waltz” is about the beginning of love, not the end.
Well, yes and no.
In Polley’s gorgeously photographed, mostly sure-footed new drama, freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is happily married to cookbook author Lou (Seth Rogen). But when she meets a handsome neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby), Margot begins to feel a stirring she hasn’t felt in years. Although her growing attraction to Daniel implies, of necessity, a pulling away from Lou, “Take This Waltz” gives short shrift to the dissolution of the marriage, focusing instead on the addictive nature of Margot’s sudden and unexpected lust for Daniel. In one sense, it’s almost a distaff take on the theme of last year’s “Shame,” which starred Michael Fassbender as a sexually compulsive businessman.
Margot’s sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), a recovering alcoholic, makes this very point, comparing Margot’s compulsive behavior to her own.
Polley, who also wrote the smart, nuanced script, drives that point home elsewhere. In the film’s most powerful, and sexiest, scene, Daniel almost brings Margot to climax simply by telling her what he’d like to do to her -- at length, and lingeringly. At the time, both of them are sitting in a bar, fully clothed, over drinks. Their martinis, Daniel notes dryly when he’s done, seem to be “redundant.”
It’s a thrilling, dizzying monologue that will drain the blood from your head and send it rushing to other body parts. Polley visually underscores that feeling by saturating the film, which is set during summertime in a hipster neighborhood of Toronto, with warm light and vibrant, swirling colors. Margot’s growing romantic intoxication is palpable.
By contrast, the contours of Margot’s relationship with Lou are sketched less vividly. Polley is adept at suggestion and implication, and it’s clear there is not just complacency but friction between Margot and Lou. But the precise nature of their problems is left vague. When Margot finally confesses her feelings about Daniel to Lou, Polley shuts off the sound, showing us only Rogen’s eloquent face, in a series of lingering takes that run the gamut from anger to disbelief to self-blame to acceptance.
Known for comedy, Rogen and Silverman are the film’s most delightful surprises, and their performances shine. From Williams, we expect greatness, and Polley’s film gets another soulful star turn from one of today’s best young actresses. As Daniel, Kirby is a charmer -- not to mention easy on the eyes. But as something more than a pretty face, he’s not entirely convincing. “I want to know what you do to me,” Margot tells him. So do we. And maybe that’s Polley’s point, that sexual attraction is a mystery.
That’s not a failing of the film, really. It isn’t clear that Margot actually wants to know what Daniel does to her -- or how -- just that he does it.
If there is a misstep, it comes late in the film. Near the end, the director takes things a little further than they need to go, pushing the film’s sexuality to a level that seems, quite frankly, out of character for both Margot and for Polley.
It’s a small quibble, but it mars an otherwise almost perfect portrait of someone hooked on a feeling, someone high on believing. In the end, it’s a story of misplaced faith. In what? Not love exactly, but in the rush of infatuation, and the illusion that this feeling can be maintained, indefinitely, without crashing.
Contains sex scenes, nudity and obscenity.