Friday, March 8, 2013

Polley Delivers With Affecting "Take This Waltz"

Although I'm not a fan of the Scrambler, it's used
expertly by writer-director Sarah Polley.
After successfully proving she could step behind the camera with the Oscar-nominated Away From Her, actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley continues her hot streak with Take This Waltz, an honest, expressive examination of longing, infidelity and the restlessness that can accompany settling in.

The movie focuses on Margot (Michelle Williams), a 28-year-old freelance writer who finds herself yearning for something more after five years of marriage to Lou (Seth Rogen), a sweet aspiring cookbook author. Margot is chock full of insecurities and desirous of steamy spontaneity, and, not being a passionate man, the contentedly oblivious Lou just doesn’t get it. Enter Daniel (Luke Kirby), a charming artist and neighbor, whose new energy and sexual openness attract Margot to consider an affair.

Polley impressively instills specificity to this universal tale of temptation. Set against a colorful and sweat-drenched hipster locale in Toronto, the film perfectly captures what In Contention’s Guy Lodge aptly termed the “mind-melting fug” of summer. Although the jobs of the principles seem a bit too precious (Lou’s cook book focuses solely on chicken and Daniel is a poor artist who makes rent by hauling a rickshaw), these feel like living breathing people.

A lot of that is courtesy of the actors. Williams is her typically excellent self, expertly conveying the flaws and fears of a woman who’s equally silly and somber. Rogen proves once again that he can play a role mostly straight when given the opportunity. As in Funny People and 50/50, he’s mostly just riffing on his everyday personality, but there’s also something else there, a more focused calm. Kirby is also good as the tentative and seductive Daniel, and Sarah Silverman gets a chance to show she can act as Lou's alcoholic sister Geraldine, particularly in her last appearance (the film tests credibility to get Margot in that scene, but the catharsis is worth it).

The film depicts a life filled with domestic hipster
bliss that nevertheless has a gap in it.
What Polley accomplishes here is all the more impressive given a rocky start that includes a contrived meet-cute and two overly transparent and neurotic speeches by Margot – one about a fear of “connections” and another concerning “momentary melancholy.” Polley stays on-the-nose throughout, with Geraldine acting as a pseudo Greek chorus and underlining thematic points outright, but those instances are far better modulated than these early missteps.

To be fair, Polley more than makes up for these issues with several expertly done sequences, including an carnal scene in which Daniel describes what he’d do to Margot if given the chance and a tour de force time-lapsed shot in a loft apartment. Even better is Polley’s decision to marry the evocative imagery of the scrambler ride to The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” in two sequences that say quite a bit about Margot’s elusive desires.

And of course, I’d be remiss not to mention the gym shower sequence, which features Williams, Silverman and a slew of less-than-desirable woman going about their business while discussing the idea of new things getting old. It’s the second time in a two-movie span that a director has chosen to put a room’s full of naked woman on screen (the first being The Master) to, highlight the objectification of women, albeit for vastly different purposes. But, don’t worry – for those who want their nudity to be a bit sexier, there’s some of that as well. B+