A Good Wife, Dancing Restlessly With Danger
Actress Sarah Polley's 2006 directorial debut, Away From Her, was a bit of a shock: an unexpectedly tonic drift into adultery and Alzheimer's that somehow found a way to move us without resorting to the maudlin. What was exciting about that film was its voice — clear, confident and emotionally complex — and many wondered if it might be a fluke.
Now, with the release of Take This Waltz, we can see that it wasn't. Unabashedly devoted to its unmoored female heroine, Margot (Michelle Williams), a 28-year-old wife beginning to wish that she weren't, the film weaves a spell as inchoate as Margot's discontent.
A little flaky and a lot fearful, Margot has a dull pamphlet-writing job with Parks Canada (the film was shot in Toronto) and a husband, Lou (Seth Rogen), who's writing a cookbook about chicken. Together, the pair are cuddlesome and quirkily immature, cooing and joking in baby voices, in the comfy shorthand of the long-married.
But there's an edge to their coziness that surfaces now and then, a space in their clowning that you could drop a refrigerator into. At these moments, Margot looks lost, Lou looks confused, and the film holds its breath.
Take This Waltz is about these spaces — between people, between jobs, between states of being — that open up and, terrifyingly, demand action. Polley knows how to evoke the restlessness that precedes a major decision, and understands the way a seemingly happy, well-matched union can contain chasms of yearning.
"Life has gaps," says Margot's pragmatic sister-in-law (an excellent Sarah Silverman), a recovering alcoholic who knows what she's talking about. "You can't keep running around like an idiot trying to fill them."
But what if a filler is right in front of you? Like a cover of a romance novel come to life, here's Daniel (Luke Kirby), a new neighbor who the sexiest coffee-shop date ever, her looming choice — security or danger, comfort or excitement — could not possibly be a more cliched one.
Somehow, though, Polley makes this very old trope feel fresh and challenging, nudging the film's emotional tone from whimsical to brutal, childish to adult, in ways that test her performers' mettle. And while Williams expresses the pitch-perfect vulnerability we've come to expect (and still barely looks older than she did on Dawson's Creek), it's Rogen who's the revelation. Who knew he could rise so far above the bromances and The Green Hornet?
Not everything here works, though, and some of Polley's stabs at metaphor and candid eroticism feel more than a little strained. Yet when everything comes together — as it does on an ecstatic carnival ride where Daniel and Margot wordlessly advance their attraction — we feel a sublime burst of understanding.
Scored to The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star," a song about transitions and obsolescence, that carnival ride leaves a feeling of loss that echoes fitfully throughout the film. And like the death-haunted imagery of the Leonard Cohen song from which it takes its title, Take This Waltz understands that nothing remains new forever. (Recommended) Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.
More on Movies
Theater Review | May 18, 2013
One Helen of Troy was enough trouble for the ancient world. What happens when you get five of them in the same room? By Sam Hurwitt
NPR Film | May 17, 2013
The 12th film based on Gene Roddenberry's '60s sci-fi TV show is the second to star a new group of actors as Kirk, Spock and their crew. J.J. Abrams returns as director, and Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch plays the memorable villain. By David Edelstein
NPR Film | May 17, 2013
A director's film memoir of her theatrical family is transformed by surprising discoveries about her parents' past -- and her own heritage. Sarah Polley's film becomes a superb meditation on how we dramatize memory. (Recommended) By Bob Mondello
The Do List | May 16, 2013
Cy Musiker and David Wiegand scout the Bay Area for things to do this coming weekend and turn up orange peels, music on a mountain, and much more!
The Bay Bridged | May 16, 2013
Listen to the new Bay Bridged mix of Bay Area psych-rock, featuring Lumerians, Disappearing People, Golden Void, Coo Coo Birds, Barn Owl, and more.
NPR's Bob Mondello says J.J. Abrams' latest Star Trek film knows how to make the sparks and feelings fly, but doesn't bother making the sparks and feeling matter very much.
The amazing tale of two sisters from a poor neighborhood — who play tennis unlike anyone before them and each reach No. 1 in the world — is one we're not likely to see again.
Playing the famous half-Vulcan requires a little meditative depth and a lot of brow-shaving. Heroes villain Zachary Quinto plays Spock in the reboot of the Star Trek franchise, with the blessing of original Spock Leonard Nimoy. Quinto tells NPR about befriending Nimoy, shaping eyebrows and more.
The indie darling returns in a winning collaboration with Noah Baumbach that tracks her developmentally arrested dancer heroine through the transition from protracted adolescence to reluctant adulthood. (Recommended)
Also on KQED.org this week ...
We Need You!
Volunteer during our current on-air radio fundraising drive. It's a great way to support KQED Radio with your time. You can really make a difference!
Enter the New "ImageMakers" Screening Room
Enjoy films from present and past seasons of KQED's short independent film series, divided into Animation, Comedy, Drama, and Suspense.