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Take This Waltz (***½)

Michelle Williams and Seth Rogen knock Polley’s latest out of the park…

Actress-turned-filmmaker Sarah Polley continues to explore love in a very unique way with the romantic drama ‘Take This Waltz’, a tremendously acted and emotionally wrenching film that’s about much more than initially meets the eye. Michelle Williams again is doing excellent work in the lead role, and Seth Rogen is as good as he’s ever been (and far more serious than ever as well) as her husband, while the supporting cast shines as well. Polley herself continues to grow as a director in all sorts of ways, and if her screenplay occasionally doesn’t seem to be on the same level as everything else, it only prevents the movie from reaching the heights of being an incredible flick, settling instead of just being excellent instead. It’s a bit slowly paced and might be too mellow at times for some, but there are rewards to be found if you give it a chance. The film opens at the end of June, and it’s a welcome respite from what likely will be yet another summer filled with pointless explosions, car chases, and a general lack of intelligence (hopefully excluding the likes of certain titles like ‘Prometheus’, ‘The Dark Knight Rises’, and a few others if all goes well). This is one definitely not to miss, as it’s among the finest titles of 2012 so far.

Margot (Williams) is a happily married woman in her mid-twenties living in Toronto with her husband Lou (Rogen), a cook book writer. They seem to have a very solid marriage, but one day while traveling Margot bumps into an intriguing man named Daniel (Luke Kirby). They barely talk to each other, but wind up sitting next to one another on the plane ride home, and both seem to be sizing the other one up. A mild flirtation occurs, but Margot tells Daniel that she’s married. The thing is, it turns out they live on the same street, and Daniel seems to constantly be bumping into Margot. He’s clear in what he wants, and makes it known. Margot…well, she’s certainly tempted, but she loves Lou and supports him while he works on a chicken cook book. He has a great and funny guy, has a family that loves her too, especially Lou’s recovering alcoholic sister Geraldine (Sarah Silverman), and seems like the perfect guy for her. Margot can’t quite decide what she wants in this world, but once she does, will she wind up with regret over the path not taken? The first two acts are very solid, but the third act begins with a surprising jump forward in time that makes the film truly about something more.

Continuing her incredibly high quality run of performances of late, Michelle Williams perfectly portrays a woman struggling to figure out just what will make her happy. She makes both mature and immature decisions over the course of the film, sometimes shockingly so. In fact, at times she seems almost like a pre-teen girl stuck in a woman’s body. No matter what she’s doing, Williams draws you in and makes you literally need to know what Margot does next. It’s not quite the work she did in ‘Blue Valentine’ or ‘My Week with Marilyn’, but it’s still top notch work and a brave performance. Seth Rogen, on the other hand, actually gives the even more impressive performance, given that it’s a more unlikely role for him. Rogen nails the character of Lou, a man who’s only crime might be being a bit too comfortable with his life and his wife. I would love to see him garner a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this role, but it’s likely a bit too low-key for the Academy. Both of them have great chemistry together, and you 100% buy them as a couple, complete with little quirks that each has and the silly idiosyncrasies that they share. As for Luke Kirby, the script fails him once or twice, but he’s quite good as well portraying the prospective “other man” who’s not a bad guy, simply someone who knows what he wants and will gladly accept it if presented to him in the right way. Sarah Silverman also turns in solid work in her few scenes, and surprisingly she’s not the comic relief (if there’s a surprise in terms of her performance, it’s her frank nude scene with Williams in the film…it’s not sexual, but it is a bit unexpected). The supporting cast includes Graham Abbey, Aaron Abrams, and Jennifer Podemski, but the film is dominated by Williams and Rogen (with Kirby as well, to a lesser extent). This is easily one of the finest group of acting jobs so far in 2012.

Sarah Polley may be making what you could consider a less mature film with her sophomore feature (compared to the very mature nature of ‘Away From Her’), but for my money this is overall the better movie. Her direction has improved (and magnificently works in music), and while the screenplay is a bit on the nose at times, she more than makes up for it by again directing her actors with aplomb. She only fails Kirby once or twice, but Rogen and Williams are handled perfectly. It’s very impressive work all around. Visually, she favors almost a dreamlike approach at times, isn’t afraid to show her characters both emotionally and physically naked, and shows lots of confidence behind the camera. As for the script,  it’s fairly naturalistic when it doesn’t get too on the nose, as mentioned above (once or twice the characters sound like their reading internal monologues). She has a lot on her mind, and if the screenplay can’t always portray that perfectly, it comes fairly close, though it’s a complete success in giving the characters strong and realistic personalities. I can’t wait to see what she does next. Polley is one of the most exciting young filmmakers working today.

‘Take This Waltz’ may not always be one of the happiest films of the year, but so far it’s one of the best. Expertly acted, surprising, and beautiful even when it’s rough, there’s very little not to like about this production. It’s full of heart, but never goes the Hollywood route. I think it might be a bit too small for Oscar to embrace, but the quality is certainly there. I found myself thinking about it long after the credits rolled, and that doesn’t happen as often as I’d like it too. This is a rewarding cinema experience. You all will get a chance to experience this terrific little film next month, and I highly recommend that you do so if at all possible. You won’t regret it…few films so far this year have been better!

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72 points
Film Lover

Written by Joey Magidson

When he’s not obsessing over new Oscar predictions on a weekly basis, Joey is seeing between 300 and 350 movies a year. He views the best in order to properly analyze the awards race/season each year, but he also watches the worst for reasons he mostly sums up as "so you all don't have to". In his spare time, you can usually find him complaining about the Jets or the Mets. Still, he lives and dies by film. Joey's a voting member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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