By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Perhaps it’s time for a little counter-programming for those either tired of or disinterested in all the explosive superheroics on summer movie screens.
So here’s a movie with the kind of 3-D that actually goes somewhere. One that doesn’t feature plastic characters or call for plastic glasses.
Take This Waltz is a small-scale comedy-drama about relationships, desire, infatuation, and infidelity, with three-dimensional characters that you don’t need extra eyewear to see.
The rather arbitrary title (taken from a Leonard Cohen song) may escape you, but the movie itself just might stick to your ribs.
Michelle Williams plays Margot, a comfortably married, if not deliriously happy, 28-year-old freelance writer working on travel brochures and living in a row house in Toronto during the summer of her surprisingly out-of-nowhere discontent.
Seth Rogen plays Lou, her husband of five years, the author of a chicken cookbook who throws local parties at their house so he can try out and perfect new poultry recipes. He’s a fundamentally decent and honest guy who loves his wife, likes his work, and doesn’t pretend to be anything he’s not.
Margot and Lou would appear to be acceptably loving and affectionate soulmates (whatever the heck love is, that is to say, they’re still in it), but there are gaps in the relationship of one sort or another that might render either of them vulnerable to marriage-threatening temptation.
Enter Luke Kirby as Daniel, the charming artist whom Margot meets on a business trip and whom she discovers lives right across the street from her and also works as a rickshaw driver.
At first Margot and Daniel, who are obviously attracted to each other, harmlessly flirt. Daniel makes it clear that he’s interested, but he also respects her desire not to destroy her marriage.
But when things heat up between them, Margot contemplates consummating the relationship.
Sarah Silverman plays Geraldine, Lou’s sister, and not only Margot’s sister-in-law but her friend and confidant, a recovering alcoholic approaching the one-year anniversary of her sobriety who also features prominently in the narrative and whose struggle not to cross a forbidden line serves as a metaphor for Margot’s predicament.
Canadian actress Sarah Polley, the writer-director of Take This Waltz, made a splash as a writer-director five years ago with her debut feature, Away From Her, an enlightening and affecting drama about aging and Alzheimer’s that won Julie Christie a well-deserved Oscar nomination as best actress and Polley an equally well-deserved nod for her adapted screenplay.
Polley’s script, full of terrifically naturalistic dialogue, has a clumsy contrivance or two in the early going, but it offers characters rich and nuanced and developed enough to keep us engaged, with an abundance of ambiguity that will have viewers disagreeing afterward about the right and wrong and reason of it all among all-too-human characters who are worth thinking and caring about.
Formulaic and simplistic this movie is most decidedly not, as Polley struggles with the universal struggle of romantic commitment.
Williams -– who, almost quietly, has managed to collect three Oscar nominations in just six years, for Brokeback Mountain, Blue Valentine, and My Week with Marilyn — gives another exceptional performance as a severely conflicted wife who is most certainly flawed and perhaps misguided but who is also sympathetic in all her imperfection.
For Rogen and Silverman, this is a chance to move in dramatic directions as each provides crucial support by painting full-bodied, authentic portraits — free of signature comedic tics and at least hinting at depth — of characters who might even merit being the protagonist in a different movie. Nicely done.
So we’ll stray from 3 stars out of 4 for Take This Waltz, an intriguing and absorbing romantic-triangle dramedy that, unlike the protagonist, just might waltz off with your grateful affection.