As a director, Canadian actress Sarah Polley has one of the keenest eyes going for the nuances of relationships. What’s astonishing about that is the fact that Ms. Polley is just 33 years old, and that her debut feature(2007’s “Away from Her”), was shot when she was barely 27. That debut was met with rousing critical praise, won 7 of the 8 prestigious Genie Awards for which it was nominated(including Best Picture), and ushered in a boatload of prizes for the legendary Julie Christie(including a Best Actress Oscar nom)as a married woman suffering the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. “Away from Her” also garnered Sarah Polley an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. How unfortunate it is this time around when it becomes evident that it’s Polley’s screenplay that will betray her on the occasion of her second feature film. Sophomore jinx? As likely as any other explanation, I guess. In fact, if not for its bullshit opening scenes, “Take This Waltz” would be a contender for my year-end Top Ten list for 2012. It boasts engaging performances as well as some genuinely rendered couple and family dynamics throughout. But it also has a lead character who is a handsome artist—who’s also a rickshaw runner. In Toronto. Yeah, right. But the ample Leonard Cohen music on the soundtrack certainly helps matters when certain things border the ridiculous.
Margot(Michelle Williams, in another of her “quiet girl with inner turmoil performances”…she’s good at it, but of course she’s had plenty of practice)is some kind of travel writer, who apparently works precisely one day. Lou(Seth Rogen, very real—as usual)is her chicken-cooking chef husband(he’s writing an all-chicken recipe cookbook), who seems perfectly nice and wonderful. So, of course, Margot is bored to distraction with him. Thank heavens there’s a cute, available, arty hunk to enter her life in the most unbelievable of ways. I’ll let you experience it for yourself, but that initial “meet-cute” and the revealing of the artist character’s location proximity had me rolling my eyes at the implausibility of it all. Also, Daniel(Luke Kirby)the artist, doesn’t exactly bring much to the table(the actor or the character). If the desire by Polley is to simply have Daniel be the taboo object of sexual desire, I guess him being a cipher is fine and dandy. But I wanted more from Mr. Rickshaw. Alright, maybe the word cipher is a bit much, but he’s easily the least memorable character in the film. Sarah Silverman as Geraldine is the most memorable character as Lou’s acerbic, recovering alcoholic sister. Her late 3rd act speech is a bit too scripty, but Silverman endows the character with enough gravitas throughout to make even that monologue sing just enough. Does Margot dump boring Lou for sexy Daniel? You tell me.
Certain scenes in this exercise burst through the screen and grab you by the throat. And it doesn’t take much research to discover that Ms. Polley was divorced from a husband of 5 years not all that long before the making of this film—the same amount of time the couple in “Take This Waltz” have been married. Passionless or not, I credit Sarah for not making Rogen’s character of Lou a jerk. Therefore, it’s very easy to see how she could get bored, while at the same time finding Lou extremely likable and unworthy of the betrayal that’s in store for him. Rogen as an actor continues to branch out impressively. There’s some bravura camerawork and editing late in the film during a scene involving people and furnishings and their place inside a room. Marvelous. This area contains some frank nudity and sexuality—with the latter being a bit of a surprise. It’s entirely welcome and appreciated however, especially since it marks this movie as the serious, adult-minded work it’s supposed to be as opposed to the cliched rom-com it would’ve been if it starred Jennifer Aniston. And some early-on disrobings come off as real and raw, and even shocking in their unflattering inclusion. This is ambitious stuff from Ms. Polley, and my desire is to heap praise on her for mostly pulling it off. But some of that writerly nonsense knocks it off track in spots, and it would be dishonest to overlook that weakness. But it’s better than just good. And, again—it has plenty of well-chosen Leonard Cohen tunes on the soundtrack. Grade: B