With “Take This Waltz”, Sarah Polley focuses again on a woman on the verge
By T.T. Stern-Enzi
A slow week at area theaters will send you scurrying to all corners for any fleeting sign of life and when you wish for more than just the promise of an escape from the heat, where do you go?
This week, stay home. That’s right, your friendly neighborhood critic just told you to grab your remote control and scan through Time Warner Cable’s On Demand titles for Sarah Polley’s “Take This Waltz,” which you can order for less than the price of a ticket at your multiplex or your art house and settle in for a little one-on-one time with Polley, a Canadian actor-turned-director who generated strong critical buzz for her feature film debut “Away From Her” back in 2007. Starring Gordon Pinsent and Julie Christie (who earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress), the film, based on “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” a short story by Alice Munro, captured the angst of an aging couple dealing with the onset of Alzheimer’s and past infidelities.
“Take This Waltz” continues to mine similar intimate territory; yet here, the focus is on the coziness that envelops a younger woman, Margot (Michelle Williams), a freelance writer married to a cookbook author (Seth Rogen) but who develops feelings for a neighbor (Luke Kirby), an artist and rickshaw driver in a beautifully funky section of Toronto. “Waltz” feels like an avant-garde performance devoted to women on the verge, which seems to be perfectly aligned with Polley’s sensibilities. What happens to women who long for more than life has given them, up to a point, but then encounter an opportunity to grab hold of something more, the something more that they have yearned for?
“Waltz,” at first glance, appears lighter, less weighty in its meditation on this issue than “Away From Her,” likely because it involves a younger protagonist. Yet, besides her age, Margot is less defined as a person. She is adrift in her life and her own skin. The freelance lifestyle has afforded her a sense of freedom, but she is untethered and unmoored from even the lofty artistic community that surrounds her.
Intriguingly, her sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) provides a unique counterpoint. Geraldine has a husband and young daughter, but she is an alcoholic in recovery who appreciates the reality that every day, she is one step away from scratching the record and wrecking the dance. She sees that life isn’t about the feverish pursuit of the new, because sooner or later, that headlong hormonal rush gets old.
That’s a lesson that applies to the movie-going experience too. We get so caught up in the thrill of heightened action and the technology (IMAX, 3D) that places us in the middle of it all, the building of franchises and then the rebooting of the whole shebang, made to refresh the experience for the next generation, that we forget that it all comes back to the comfort of intimacy that we may achieve only a handful of times.
I was fortunate enough to catch Polley’s film at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, during the late summer-early fall period, when the shock and awe had worn off and I was eager for the less is more approach. “Take This Waltz” plays small; truthfully much moreso than “Away From Her,” but it meets the demand of home viewing quite nicely. Shockingly, I find myself rooting, nay demanding, a movie-watching experience that takes us out of the theaters and allows us to dance up close with the movies we may come to love.
Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at Film@DaytonCityPaper.com