Like Ben Affleck when he tackles the south streets of Boston or Martin Scorcese when he sets his ultra-violent flicks in the gangster areas of New York, the roots of writer-director Sarah Polley are tattooed throughout the indie film Take This Waltz.
Polley’s second feature — after the incredibly successful and moving Alzheimer drama Away From Her — takes place in the Little Portugal section of Toronto, an area filled with such Bohemian people and things that the houses look like they came out of an idolized Woodstock catalogue.
Polley paints her Toronto as a city of lost souls. Empty streets, empty restaurants, empty pools fill the colorful screen. Even though people gather to celebrate and bask in the other’s company, a feeling of lonlieness still permeates the air.
No wonder poor Margot — played by the illustrious Michelle Williams — can’t seem to crack a sincere smile. Stuck in a Bohemian love triangle with her kind husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), and handsome neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby), Margot seemingly zombie walks her way through life, as if waiting for some sort of clue as to what to do next.
When she’s not prancing around Canada rewriting pamphlets for Colonial Times-like villages, Margot sits in front of her computer, while her loveable schlub of a husband researches chicken recipes for his new cookbook in their kitchen.
And even though the two banter and play with each other like best friends, you can’t help but see the disappointment in Margot’s eyes. She wants to feel complete with Lou, yet there’s the obvious look of feeling unfulfilled.
On a plane ride back from the aforementioned Colonial Village trip, Margot sits next to a handsome stranger. Tall, dark, mysterious and handsome, Daniel seems to be everything that Margot’s missing in her own relationship. The sparks are mutual, but the idea of hurting her husband keeps Margot from cheating.
The theme of tension is basically what drives the film: Tension between husband and wife, wife and sexy neighbor, husband and neighbor, wife and herself. And though some audiences might react negatively to this stagnant tension, it turns out that the quiet nature of the film doesn’t hinder its interest factor — it instead increases it.
Too often are films filled with flawed characters who are either punished or celebrated. Take This Waltz, however, is a film that is incredibly content with its discontented characters. What drives them are seemingly universal human experiences, creating a film so real it feels like a documentary.
At the root of the film’s success lies Michelle Williams, an actress so perennially lauded recently that it seems as if she can do no wrong. Her Margot is a quiet force with a face void of make-up and a haircut that seems limp, as if it’s simply given up. Williams’ face somehow manages to convey a dozen emotions at once, and she effortlessly shows off her conflicted feelings with the raising of an eyebrow or a glint in the eye.
The real surprise, however, are the tragic performances by comedic actors Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman. Silverman plays Margot’s spunky sister-in-law, and her fight with staying sober can claw at your heart.
And though some might want Margot to just hook up with sexy Daniel already, it’s hard not to feel for Lou, played by Rogen with such sweet authenticity that everyone might wish they had a husband like him.
At first glance, it seems unlikely that the hot Daniel would go for the plain Margot. Yet the chemistry between Williams and Kirby is so intense that you can see the steam rising from the screen. Even when the two don’t speak, the tortured and binded looks on their faces explain it all.
Take This Waltz is a lot of things: erotic, tragic, hilarious, puzzling. In fact, it’s a lot like life itself. By revealing the inner turmoil of Margot, Polley has created a feminine icon for the 21st century. No longer are women subjected to simple roles as the sexpot or good girl — Margot is as three-dimensional as you can get.
Hopefully more female directors like Polley manage to create stories for the screen. It’s refreshing to see — and hear — a young voice like hers showcasing the true nature of not only women, but people as a whole.