Filmmaker Sarah Polley's "Take This Waltz" is the anatomy of a love triangle, in some ways reminiscent of her sensitive directorial debut, "Away From Her."
Unlike that 2006 film which centered on an older man coming to terms with the relationship his senile wife has begun with a fellow nursing-home patient "Waltz" is about the beginning of love, not the end.
Well, yes and no.
In Polley's gorgeously photographed, mostly sure-footed new drama, freelance writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is happily married to cookbook author Lou (Seth Rogen).
But when she meets a handsome neighbor, Daniel (Luke Kirby), Margot begins to feel a stirring she hasn't felt in years. Although her growing attraction to Daniel implies, of necessity, a pulling away from Lou, "Take This Waltz" gives short shrift to the dissolution of the marriage, focusing instead on the addictive nature of Margot's sudden and unexpected lust for Daniel. In one sense, it's almost a distaff take on the theme of last year's "Shame," which starred Michael Fassbender as a sexually compulsive businessman.
Margot's sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), a recovering alcoholic, makes this very point, comparing Margot's compulsive behavior to her own.
Polley, who also wrote the smart, nuanced script, drives that point home elsewhere. In the film's most powerful and sexiest scene, Daniel tells Margot what he'd like to do to her at length, and lingeringly. At the time, both of them are sitting in a bar, fully clothed, over drinks.
Polley visually underscores that feeling by saturating the film, which is set during summertime in a hipster neighborhood of Toronto, with warm light and vibrant, swirling colors. Margot's growing romantic intoxication is palpable.
By contrast, the contours of Margot's relationship with Lou are sketched less vividly. Polley is adept at suggestion and implication, and it's clear there is not just complacency but friction between Margot and Lou. But the precise nature of their problems is left vague. When Margot finally confesses her feelings about Daniel to Lou, Polley shuts off the sound, showing us only Rogen's eloquent face, in a series of lingering takes that run the gamut from anger to disbelief to self-blame to acceptance.
Known for comedy, Rogen and Silverman are the film's most delightful surprises. From Williams, we expect greatness, and Polley's film gets another soulful star turn from one of today's best young actresses.
As Daniel, Kirby is a charmer not to mention easy on the eyes. But as something more than a pretty face, he's not entirely convincing.
"I want to know what you do to me," Margot tells him. So do we. And maybe that's Polley's point, that sexual attraction is a mystery.
That's not a failing of the film, really. It isn't clear that Margot actually wants to know what Daniel does to her or how just that he does it.
If there is a misstep, it comes late in the film. Near the end, the director takes things a little further than they need to go, pushing the film's sexuality to a level that seems, quite frankly, out of character for both Margot and Polley.
In the end, it's a story of misplaced faith. In what? Not love exactly, but in the rush of infatuation and the illusion that this feeling can be maintained, indefinitely, without crashing.
TAKE THIS WALTZ
3 stars (out of 4)
Cast: Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Director: Sarah Polley
Rated R (Contains sex scenes, nudity and obscenity)