PLOT Copywriter Margot (Michelle Williams), 28, has been happily married to Lou (Seth Rogen), an aspiring cookbook writer, for almost five years. But when handsome artist Daniel (Luke Kirby) moves in across the street from their home in suburban Toronto, Margot finds herself drawn to him, threatening the placid stability of her marriage.
With her remarkable first feature, Away From Her, 28-year-old Sarah Polley tackled the thorny subject of Alzheimer’s disease with sensitivity, courage and consummate skill, receiving a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination for her efforts. Now, at the ripe old age of 33, the former actress turns her attention to a similarly sensitive subject – a woman’s flirtation with adultery – and a second Oscar nomination, this time for Best Original Screenplay, seems likely.
The revelation that Margot is married comes after we have already witnessed her first encounter with Daniel, the attraction between them immediate and obvious. When it transpires that Daniel lives right across the street from Margot, it seems as though Fate is playing a particularly cruel trick on Margot, testing the stability of her marriage by causing her to question it: ‘If I am happily married, why am I attracted to this other person?’ From this simple catalyst, Polley weaves an extraordinarily assured and subtle drama, by turns funny, erotic, whimsical and heart-rending, but always truthful, involving and emotionally charged.
Take This Waltz, which takes its title from a Leonard Cohen song, is a welcome departure from typical treatments of infidelity, which tend to establish variants of marital dissatisfaction before trusting an audience to accept an extra-marital yearning, particularly from a woman. One of Polley’s great strengths, both as a screenwriter and a director, is that she is naturally resistant to cliché and lazy shortcutting, striving to create a film which removes any trace of artifice – except, perhaps, in the tinted summer haze through which she shows her native Toronto.
As with any film about relationships, casting is essential, and Polley has backed a winner in Williams, who delivers her most complex, nuanced and keenly observed performance yet, wringing every scrap of character from the text as she brings Margot vividly to life. As a result, Kirby and Rogen have their work cut out for them keeping up with her, and one of the few instances in which Polley stumbles is when she elects to frame one of Rogen’s key scenes as a jump-cut acting showcase which finds the comic actor’s skills sorely lacking. For the most part, however, Polley is in complete command of sensitive, often difficult material, which should provoke admiration and discussion in equal measure.
VERDICT Sarah Polley’s second film is a masterfully painted portrait of an ordinary marriage under threat, dominated by a central performance of exquisite subtlety and observation. ★★★★