Take This Waltz
The standout moment in Take This Waltz, the second feature from Canadian actor-turned-director Sarah Polley, takes place on a cheesy fairground ride. An attractive young couple, Margot (Michelle Williams) and Daniel (Luke Kirby), lit by a kaleidoscope of colour from the ride’s flashing lights, stare into each other’s eyes.
As they spin in dizzying circles centrifugal forces throw them closer to one another. The soundtrack to this gloriously romantic scene is – improbably – the tinny Video Killed the Radio Star by The Buggles, which blares from some nearby speakers. Then halt. The music stops suddenly, the lighting turns to harsh white and the ride’s sweaty custodian ushers them out of their love seat. From ecstasy to everyday in a heartbeat.
This clash between fantasy and reality is at the heart of Polley’s film. Margot is torn between her chiselled fairground companion, a rickshaw driver-cum-artist, and her sweet, doughy husband of five years, Lou (Seth Rogen), a chef who’s writing a cookery book dedicated solely to chicken-based dishes.
The monotony of Lou’s recipes seem to have spilled over into his and Margot’s relationship. They express their feelings for each other in childish in-jokes. “I wuv you so much I want to mash your head with a potato masher,” says Lou. “Well I wuv you so much I want to inject your face with the Ebola virus,” Margot retorts, winning this round of whispered sick nothings.
While their pillow talk is prepubescent, their sex life is depressingly middle-aged – we’re talking pyjama bottoms off but the tops left on stuff. When Margot meets Daniel, her and Lou’s new neighbour, she starts to wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the street. It’s certainly leaner and more attentive. Daniel wants to know Margot, every inch of her, as he explains in an erotically charged monologue that will make even Fifty Shades of Grey devotees blush. He’s offering her the kind of bare naked, top of the sheets excitement that’s long dissolved from her marriage – if it was ever there in the first place.
Polley captures this love triangle with a sharp eye for detail. In each frame candy-coloured costumes and set dressing draw the eye, be it Margot’s turquoise toenails or the Chinese lanterns that festoon the couple’s flotsam and jetsam-filled Toronto home, giving the film a Godardian pop-art vibe that balances the saltiness of the film's underlying melancholy. This evocative art design is coupled with a casual lyricism that brings to mind the loosey-goosey direction of Robert Altman or Jonathan Demme, particularly in the group scenes – two family gatherings and an extraordinary sequence in a women’s changing room.
Polley’s ear for dialogue is, unfortunately, less well tuned. Most early exchanges, shoe-horned in to signpost character traits, are toe-curlingly awful. “I’m afraid of being afraid,” says Margot to Daniel, when they share a flight home from Nova Scotia. It is the worst line in a movie I've heard all year, at least it was until I heard Daniel's earnest response: “That sounds like the worst fear of all.” It’s frustrating that this talented filmmaker feels the need to fall back on such clunky on-the-nose dialogue when the cast is this expressive – especially Williams. To write off this fine sophomore effort because of such errors would be churlish, though. Sometimes with cinema rich with daring ideas, you have to, like a marriage, take the rough with the smooth.