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Take this Waltz | Review

The sophomore effort from Canuck prodigy Sarah Polley takes two graceful steps in the wrong direction

Sarah Polley opens up about her fractured marriage with editor David Wharnsby (editor of Polley’s debut, Away From Her) in her obviously autobiographical new film, Take This Waltz. Affecting enough at the back end to further solidify her as a talent to watch, Waltz sees a pet theme already emerging for the young helmer: the evaporation of love that occurs at the hands of the inexorable passage of time. Despite Polley’s intimacy with the material, and yet another wrenching performance from Michelle Williams, there are more than one too many missteps in this painfully uneven melodrama. Likely to turn many viewers into leaky faucets by the time the credits stream, its should help certify Polley as Canada’s foremost soul crusher.

When Margot (Michelle Williams) meets broodingly handsome Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a day trip, she is only mildly reluctant to flirt with the inchoate, presumptively fleeting relationship. However, when she returns to her Toronto home, and husband of five years (Seth Rogen), she is abashed to find that Daniel conveniently lives right across the street (no, this isn’t going to turn into Disturbia). A seed of infidelity has been planted in Margot’s meek spirit, and she knows just as well as discerning audiences that Luke is going to keep on watering it.

To instill some uncertainty into where this is going, there is nothing inherently dysfunctional between Margot and hubby Lou, save for occasional intimations of onsetting ennui. Lou is a chef currently compiling a cookbook exclusively assigned to poultry recipes, so even their evening meals have gotten a little ostinato. Meanwhile, a range of annoyances impend their attempts at intimacy, such as when Lou interrupts a kitschy, kissy babble session because he’s turned off when Margot calls him ‘Baby’. When we watch the two prep for some premeditated, ‘page 1 of Kama Sutra’ sex, one gets the urge to just grab them, yank the rings off their fingers, and tell them to move on with their lives.

As events plough onward, Polley can’t seem to situate her film into a steady rhythm or tone. Cliché rom-com collides with slapstick farce, bumps elbows with Desperate Housewives, only to be one-upped by extended moments of gratuitous old women nudity, which is apparently thrown in to give the otherwise homey style a bit of an edge. A late scene set to Leonard Cohen’s ‘Take This Waltz’ is effectively the most X-rated Cohen music video ever made, and is laughably mis-played given the preceding moments of sentimental heart-spilling. Waltz‘s final statement – that all of Margot’s attempts at rekindling her atrophying passions will die out in time – is blunt and trite.

Props must be given to Michelle Williams, who, after Wendy and Lucy and Blue Valentine, can effectively be called a master at eliciting utmost sympathy and dramatic sucker punches with uncanny ease. Luke Kirby is effectively seductive, and Rogen dopey enough to make Lou and Margot’s fall-out believable, if not mandatory. Such as Away From Her, camera and cinematography are competent if repellently Lifetime-y. Polley has not yet matched a visual aesthetic with her artistic ambitions. Wharnsby’s absence from the editing table has yielded absolutely zero distinctions between the two features.

Reviewed at the 2011 Toronto Int. Film Festival – Gala Presentations

Runtime: 116 Mins.

Rating 2.5 stars

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Blake Williams is an avant-garde filmmaker born in Houston, currently living and working in Toronto. He recently entered the PhD program at University of Toronto's Cinema Studies Institute, and has screened his video work at TIFF (2011 & '12), Tribeca (2013), Images Festival (2012), Jihlava (2012), and the Pacific Film Archive in Berkeley. Blake has contributed to's coverage for film festivals such as Cannes, TIFF, and Hot Docs. Top Films From Contemporary Film Auteurs: Almodóvar (Talk to Her), Coen Bros. (Fargo), Dardennes (Rosetta), Haneke (Code Unknown), Hsiao-Hsien (Flight of the Red Balloon), Kar-wai (Happy Together), Kiarostami (Where is the Friend's Home?), Lynch (INLAND EMPIRE), Tarantino (Reservoir Dogs), Van Sant (Last Days), Von Trier (The Idiots)

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