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I've been trying to stick with short capsule reviews and video blogs for my Toronto Film Festival coverage this year, but some films simply demand more of that from you. That's the great irony about film festivals as good as Toronto-- you're seeing some of the best films you're likely to see in the year, and have the smallest amount of time to think about them. But even though I saw Sarah Polley's Take This Waltz quite early in the day, and went into a jam-packed day of interviews and other screenings after it, the movie has stuck with me indelibly. Having the Leonard Cohen song from which the movie borrows the title stuck in my head is only the beginning of it.
Take This Waltz, which counts among its many virtues a career-best performance from Seth Rogen and the lushest summer-in-the-city visuals this side of Do The Right Thing, is a simple, almost fable-like love triangle. Margot (Michelle Williams, always great) is in a loving five-year marriage with Lou (Rogen), a cookbook author with whom she shares a rickety, comfortable townhouse. On a work trip to Nova Scotia Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), a devastatingly handsome artist and flirt who turns out to live directly across the street from her and Lou. Even when their shared cab ride back from the airport involves not much more than small talk and a silly game, Margot and Daniel both know something significant has happened between them; as the cab stops she confesses "I'm married," and he responds with a resigned "That's too bad."
Margot tries to stay away from him, snuggling with Lou in bed and throwing parties for his extended family (which includes a very good Sarah Silverman as his recovering alcoholic sister). At the same time, she intentionally plans her walks so that she can catch Daniel on the street. She vacillates constantly between genuine love for Lou, guilt about the potential betrayal, and the undeniable spark between her and Daniel, which becomes all the more erotic the harder they try to hold back. It's not technically an affair, and it takes place in ways no real life rendezvous would-- they visit an amusement park, they swim in the middle of the night at the local pool without ever touching, they talk frankly in public over afternoon martinis. Polley, who is writing and directing her second feature, has created a hyper-colorful version of her native Toronto and a somewhat surreal story to go with it. Her evocative, constantly moving camera puts us easily inside Margot's confusion, but the story itself unfolds in both complicated and magical ways that's more like the way new love feels than how it actually happens.
The movie takes its time with its slight story, allowing us to live both in Margot and Lou's cozy, silly marriage and her electric connection with Daniel, so that when the two collide it's nearly as painful for us to witness as it is for her. Polley couldn't have cast anyone better than Williams, whose expressive face and girlish haircut bring out Margot as an adulteress with a childlike heart, but both Kirby and Rogen are up to her level as well. Rogen proved back in Knocked Up that he can bring vulnerability and emotion to his funnyman roles, but Lou allows him to scale back even further, revealing a more natural charm and the kind of guileless, loving husband Margot is so scared to lose. And Kirby, though his character mostly requires him to be hot and mysterious, brings hints of Daniel as an actually complicated human being, just a bit more than a handsome cipher for Margot to fall for. Polley has written her screenplay carefully-- in the case of some dialogue moments, maybe too carefully-- but her actors bring an immeasurable amount as well.
Take This Waltz demands that you live inside it, with its languid pace and candy colors and heroine who can't help but make a lot of infuriatingly bad decisions. It's not a hard choice to go along with it, but it is a choice-- I was surprised to see any negative reactions after the screening to a film I loved so fiercely, but the same vision and big emotions that made me love Take This Waltz can also be alienating. But even if you preferred the wintry restraint of Polley's first feature Away From Her, Take This Waltz is proof that she's a filmmaker with something to say, and in this cast something complicated, undeniable and a little maddening about what it means to love somebody. I walked out of the movie hoping that, by being in Toronto, walking the streets would somehow keep the movie's dreamy feeling going-- and it did, for a while. But really I just need to see this movie again, and then maybe again, to get swept up once more in this passionate and remarkable movie.