In a Canadian interview last September, director Sarah Polley said that making Take This Waltz was even scarier than debuting with Away From Her (2007) – this time her script had no short story to rely on, but was her idea from the start. She can relax now, because her second film is even better than the first. This is a touching and amusing depiction of love and relationships that shows us how challenging it is to accept the realities of a long-term commitment.
As Margot Rubin (Michelle Williams), a 28-year-old writer, is heading home to Toronto after a visit abroad she ends up in the plane seat next to Daniel (Luke Kirby). After some initial awkwardness they hit it off, but as they share a cab from the airport Margot tells Daniel that she’s married. It turns out that he lives just across the street from her. Margot is startled but really tries to ignore that fact. Over the next weeks she gets to know him nevertheless and learns that he’s an aspiring artist who’s supporting himself by pulling tourists around in a rickshaw. Daniel makes it clear to Margot that if anything should happen between them, it’s up to her.
Her husband is Lou (Seth Rogen), a lovable cook who’s currently writing a book on how to make every conceivable chicken dish. In other words, he and Margot are having chicken for dinner every night. She loves him… but can’t help noticing where he comes up short.
Lessons of a life lived
Sounds like a simple story, and it is. That’s not the point. This movie is all about observing the details of the marriage between the Rubins, the various aspects of the burgeoning romance between Margot and Daniel and what it actually means to say “I do”. It’s a learning experience for Margot in particular, but Polley also contrasts her problems with those of Lou’s brother and his wife (Sarah Silverman) who’s a recovering alcoholic.
Polley builds her story slowly and never wavers from realism. Rogen’s character is an example in point – this is his second performance in an outstanding drama in a row, following 50/50, but this time the inevitable comedy that seems tied to his persona is more discreetly funny in the hands of this director. His childishness becomes a moving aspect of the marriage, a silly little thing they have going on between themselves that will look instantly recognizable to many couples watching the movie – and ultimately becomes part of the heart that breaks in the end. Polley is just as adept at capturing the first moments of falling in love, such as an enchanting sequence in an amusement park ride, and the journey from sexual delirium to every-day mundanity in a montage set to Leonard Cohen’s “Take This Waltz” and filmed in a way that resembles a waltz. A perfect illustration of the lessons of a life lived.
Rogen and Kirby are fine in their roles; Silverman not entirely successful in a part that requires a lot. Williams, though, is absolutely riveting as Margot in a film that deserves comparison with another story about a failing marriage that she made, Blue Valentine (2010). This one is lighter in tone, and will automatically earn scorn (just like 50/50 did in some quarters), but rings true nevertheless.
Set and shot in Toronto (and Nova Scotia), the film is thoroughly Canadian – Rogen was born in Vancouver, Williams in neighboring Montana and the title is derived from a bittersweet Leonard Cohen song. It took years for Polley to make her second film, but she’s now establishing herself as a force to reckon with.
Take This Waltz 2012-Canada. 116 min. Color. Produced by Susan Cavan, Sarah Polley. Written and directed by Sarah Polley. Cast: Michelle Williams (Margot Rubin), Seth Rogen (Lou Rubin), Luke Kirby (Daniel), Sarah Silverman, Diane D’Aquila, Aaron Abrams.
Last word: “There’s this great line that Bette Davis says: ’50 percent of a woman’s charm is mystery.’ I think that’s not just women, I think it’s men too, and I think that we lose our charm to each other somewhat when we lose our mystery. So then what? And I think that’s the question that it’s hard for us to ask generally, ‘So then what?’ It’s not a question we’re prepared for. We’re just supposed to find the person we’re in love with and settle down, and everything’s gonna be great, but it takes a lot of work, I think. It also involved being satisfied that things aren’t always going to be perfect.” (Polley, Moviefone)