Saturday, October 8, 2011

VIFF 2011: “Take This Waltz”

“But I set fire to the rain
Watched it pour as I touched your face
Well, it burned while I cried
'Cause I heard it screaming out your name, your name” – Adele

Sarah Polley’s first film since her stunning, Oscar-nominated Away From Her is a study in marital dissatisfaction and the thrill of something new. Margot (Michelle Williams) is a slightly off-kilter, anti-social hipster who has been married for five years to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chef working on a book of nothing but chicken recipes. On a business trip, she becomes irresistibly drawn to Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist who works as a rickshaw driver and who just happens to live across the street from them. During the course of several chance encounters, he discovers that she’s unhappy in her marriage, not because of any fault of her husband’s, but because of her own malaise and dissatisfaction. Over time, Margot spends more time with Daniel and they make a date to meet thirty years into the future, because she can’t act on her impulses and her new feelings now … or could she?

This is not a film where true love must conquer all. To leave a dissatisfying situation is the solution that works for everyone. Circumstance can sometime dictate our decisions, and in take this waltz, Polley stealthily introduces that the problem is not merely one of attraction of romantic predicament, but of something deeper and more organic to character. Inspired in no small part by David Lean’s Brief Encounter, if not overtly then in spirit and candour, Take This Waltz is the rare romantic work where no one is particularly villainous or angelic, they are simply who they are and are not purely defined by their actions. Margot is a flake. Lou adores her, even if he is a bit juvenile and plays little jokes on her that never quite completely rob her of her dignity. Daniel is earthy, artistic and bold. Margot’s dilemma is not encapsulated within a conventional plot. It is, much like Blue Valentine (also starring Williams), an intimate character study of the aftermath of great passion and its remains. Ultimately, Polley reveals that happily ever after is not defined by circumstance, but by difficult choices that affect all involved parties. The final scenes is particularly telling and, without ever saying a single word, speaks to a more solemn undertone that has been there all along, but you just never saw until the credits roll.

The film boasts a dream cast that flourishes under Polley’s confident direction. Williams has become one of our most reliable dramatic actresses, following up her Oscar-nominated turn in Blue Valentine with another rich performance. Kirby exudes just enough attraction to make him irresistible, without making him a total creep (even if he is kind of a jerk for not leaving her well alone). There is a great surprise in Sarah Silverman’s brief but effective turn as Lou’s alcoholic sister, who sees everyone more clearly than they could ever see themselves. But the true revelation in Take This Waltz is Vancouver native Rogen as Lou, a great bear of a man who is slightly childish, but whose happy exterior contains a limitless reservoir of feeling. In a scene of slowly cascading heartbreak, he pours out his emotions not in long speeches, but in fits and spurts of quiet desperation. Rogen has heretofore only appeared in puerile comedies, and on the basis of his magnificent performance here should be freed from ever making anything remotely resembling Knocked Up.

Take This Waltz played to packed houses at the Vancouver International Film Festival after a rapturous reception at Toronto. Check the website for more information, including a possible but yet unannounced commercial release date.