For being only her second film as director, Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz” is an impressive feat of tone and what makes it so impressive is its willingness to stick to its guns throughout so that, in a sense, it becomes a deconstruction of the very fanciful genre it inhabits. She is not interested in the cries of the Credibility Crowd – how does an artist who will not sell his artist and only means of an income is driving a rickshaw afford that place? – and she is not interested in the cries of the Anti-Whimsy Crowd – a Meet Cute at a historical re-enactment? – because she is most interested in employing all this to hone in on her theme.
Michelle Williams, so insistently precious you could add a chorus of “Awwwwwww” to the soundtrack every time she appears, is Margot, a writer of pamphlets, or some such, and married to Lou (Seth Rogen) who, on account of writing a chicken cookbook, cooks chicken all day every day which underscores his “it tastes like chicken” ordinariness. But on a working trip to Nova Scotia, Margot encounters Daniel (Luke Kirby) and on the flight back to Toronto they wind up setting next to one another and then they wind up splitting a cab and then they discover that (gasp!) they live right across the street from one another! This is both convenient – for the story - and problematic – for Margot – because a spark develops between the two and this allows ample opportunity for them to follow it up.
Margot is not as unhappy as she is restless. Her marriage to Lou seems nice and stable but devoid of energy. Polley’s casting of Rogen, in fact, is quite a coupe because she cleverly uses his standard film character persona – always cracking wise, always chortling, very gracious but not always aware – to show what it might be like to actually be married to the charming lug as opposed to just being in the advanced stages of courtship.
Daniel, as he must be, is everything Lou is not, mysterious, emotional, willing to talk, overtly express what he wants to do to her sexually, and always at Margot’s beck and call because, hey, he sets his own hours. It is as if the fickle gods of love have placed him in the same neighborhood solely to tempt Margot. She does not officially succumb and she does not turn her back on her husband, still displaying some percentage of admiration for him throughout, but there is something in her that feels less than unfulfilled.
The counterpoint to Margot is her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), an alcoholic, ten months sober, a deft character (and performance) that in minimal screen time captures and underscores the idea that one decision can either completely reinforce or unravel our lives.
The beats of the film play out in a fairly predictable manner and, yet, just when the film seems to be hitting its natural conclusion, Polley chooses to keep it going. This might feel unnatural at first and elicit the complaint of “overlong” and, truth be told, this complaint is correct. But it is correct because overlong and unnatural is precisely the sensation that Polley is striving to achieve.
You know how a romantic movie ends and viewers espouse: “I want to see what happens to that couple AFTER they get together”? That is exactly what the last 30 minutes of “Take This Waltz” shows us. Every relationship initially presents itself as some form of The Rickshaw Driver Of Our Dreams only to eventually reveal reality in the form of It Tastes Like Chicken.
Is "something better" really all that better or is it destined to end as more of the same? I was reminded of the words of one of my favorite singer/songwriters, the incomparable Tift Merritt, speaking with NPR: “You always hope that you’re going to find that place where you belong – you know, you follow the map or the playbook that everyone in the world seems to have, or understand, and you arrive at the place where things make sense. And I think that’s a little naïve, and that you have to build that place yourself.”
She makes it sound so easy, doesn't she?