Take This Waltz, the luminous portrait of dimming passion, would be a masterstroke from a veteran filmmaker. But the fact that it's crafted with such skill by Sarah Polley in her second full-length feature makes it that much more impressive.
Polley, already a fine young actress (The Sweet Hereafter, John Adams), is generous to a fault with her cast, showcasing Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman in some of their best work.
It's criminal that this film, which debuted at 2011's Toronto International Film Festival, was not given robust distribution. I counted at least three Oscar nominations in Take This Waltz, two for Polley's script and direction and another for Williams. This is one of Williams' best performances to date in a white-hot career that has already garnered three Academy nods.
But be forewarned: If your heart has been recently bruised by a relationship meltdown, this film might be too difficult for you to enjoy. The exactitude of Polley's dialogue shoots tiny arrows into your heart--not enough to mortally wound but enough to make you dizzy. The lines strike with patience and devastating rawness.
We instantly recognize Margot (Williams) and Lou (Rogen). They are the young couple that was so adorable when they met and so comfortable when they wed. Their five-year marriage is solid, but only from afar. They have arrived at the critical stage where a daily rhythm of companionship can be interpreted by too many couples as a cancer of sameness.
We know where this is heading. Unfortunately, when it is crafted with such detail, watching Margot and Lou is a bit like watching a car crash in slow motion. We pray for someone to grab the wheel, but collision is its only course.
Margot and Lou are more partners than lovers, laughing their way through sleepy pillow talk moments but rarely approaching the awkwardness of natural expression. Their relationship is more defined by tickling and rug-wrestling than long, defining silences. As a result, it feels as if they're on an extended date.
But Margot meets Daniel, a passion-on-his-sleeve artist. In short order, Margot recognizes that Daniel is the lust, and possibly the love, of her life. When they secretly rendezvous in a neighborhood pool, their underwater dance oozes sensuality, yet they never touch. When his hand momentarily grazes her ankle, Margot jumps from the water and runs off.
"Are you afraid of being afraid?" shouts Daniel.
Margot rushes home to Lou, but concludes her marriage is not so much on the rocks as on the sand.
Silverman is superb, playing Margot's sister Geraldine, a caustic alcoholic who speaks truth to Margot's dilemma. Silverman, who we are so accustomed to seeing as a snarky cliche, wears this role as a second skin.
Take This Waltz refers to the beautiful Leonard Cohen ballad, which is part of the film's great soundtrack that also includes Cohen songs covered by Feist. Take This Waltz is one of the year's best films.