Take This Waltz
Love means you never have to say you’re sappy, which may account for the praise being heaped upon Take This Waltz, the second feature by Canadian actress/director Sarah Polly. For some reason, critics are embracing this well-meaning melodrama as if it were a sensitive portrait of a contemporary romantic triangle. This could be because her first feature - the piercing "Away From Her" - mixed a serious issue (dementia) with a very human story of a woman’s shifting emotional allegiances. It also featured an incandescent performance by Julie Christie as a woman facing Alzheimer’s and is, like this film, the story of a woman torn between two men.
But where that film had resonance, "Take This Waltz" is earnest treacle, falling upon whimsical clichés in telling the story of how a chance meeting leads to the dissolution of a marriage. The meeting happens between Margot (Michelle Williams) and Daniel (Luke Kirby) at a Nova Scotia historical reenactment. As if by fate, they end up sitting in adjacent seats on a plane back to Toronto, then sharing a cab to the working class neighborhood where - it turns out - they’re neighbors. Daniel, who supports himself as a rickshaw driver, lives across the street from the apartment Margot shares with her husband Lou (Seth Rogen), a food writer working on a book of chicken recipes. Oh, yes, there’s a spark between Margot and Daniel, but she does her best to douse it by telling him she’s married.
Margot wants to be a writer, though she spends most of her time in hope of catch glances of the hunky Daniel as he trots off with his rickshaw. (Apparently seasonal rickshaw driving is pretty lucrative in Toronto - what else can account for the fashionably sparse loft he eventually settles in?) The pair begin to meet for walks, then for martinis, followed by dates -- a day at an amusement park played against retro music! When he finally gets Margot into his apartment, Daniel explains that he’s artist, though to reticent to show his work to anyone; and Margot explains that Lou is gentle and kind, which is why she loves him. Will this be enough to keep the waifish Margot and the sexy Daniel from getting together? You do the math.
Rounding out the cast is Sarah Silverman as Lou’s rambunctious sister who has recently entered Alcoholics Anonymous. It should surprise no one that when this information is introduced early in the film, it will lead to her relapse in the final reel - a dramatic one involving a car crash and baby chicks. (What is this fascination with poultry in this movie?) Though predictable, Silverman brings a welcome quirkiness to her role; unfortunately, she’s absent for most of the film.
For her part, Williams plays her indecision with conviction, though a little of her dreamy waif goes a long way. By midway through the film, you may wonder why Lou puts up with her moodiness and lack of motivation. Rogen has charm as the mensch whose sweet disposition is no challenge to his handsome neighbor’s sensual appeal.
Kirby has a quiet charisma, though there’s a sense that in another director’s film his behavior could be seen as manipulative and controlling. When she finally succumbs to him, he spurns her, then moves away. What else can the shell-shocked Margot do but follow? Perhaps the point is that she willingly trades one dysfunctional relationship for another. Whatever. By the time this happens, "Take This Waltz" - a Lifetime movie for the art house crowd -- has long worn out its welcome.