“Take This Waltz,” the second feature film directed by actress Sarah Polley, is a crushing, but breathtaking, look at romance – the kind rarely, if ever, portrayed in movies.
Polley's previous film, the outstanding "Away from Her," delicately explored longing and heartbreak. Here she goes a step further.
In "Take This Waltz," writer Margot (Michelle Williams) is happily married to chef Lou (Seth Rogen). On a business trip, Margot meets the handsome artist Daniel (Luke Kirby). They flirt on the plane and in the cab ride home, and are both shocked to learn that they live across the street from one another.
Margot resists the temptation to continue seeing Daniel, but it happens anyway, as if beyond her control. Soon, she must make a tough decision.
The movie has more than its share of brilliant scenes. In one, Margot and Daniel take a whirling, spinning carnival ride, with romantic lighting and the sounds of the Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star."
The dizzy, giddy mood is interrupted as the lights suddenly snap on, like a slap of ugly reality.
In an even more complex scene, Daniel – who makes a living pulling a rickshaw – gives Margot and Lou a ride, simultaneously painting his male rival as morally superior, but physically inferior.
Oddly, both men treat Margot with a measure of cruelty – Lou and Margot play cheerfully brutal little games with one another – as if cruelty and love were somehow inseparable.
Moreover, in several sequences, Polley uses water, both refreshing and destructive, as a theme.
In a particularly notable scene, Margot and her sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman) take a shower after an aerobic swim class. Polley plants her camera center stage to capture all the women, Williams (early 30s), Silverman (early 40s) and a group of much older women, fully naked, from head to foot. Their conversation, appropriately, is about how everything shiny and new eventually becomes old and tarnished.
Indeed, this is a harsh lesson that Margot learns in the film's final stretch, which goes in startling directions long after an ordinary romance would have ended.
Williams is extraordinary in a role both deep and rudderless, and Silverman, cynical and grounded despite her character's battle with alcoholism, matches her.
Polley must have been in a dark mood when she wrote this original screenplay, named after Leonard Cohen's 1988 song, but like the song it also contains moments of great beauty, passion and awe. It's an exemplary achievement.
Take This Waltz
Starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman
Written and directed by Sarah Polley
Running time 1 hour 56 minutes