Sarah Polley is a fine actress and a promising director (2006’s “Away from Her”), but her latest work as a filmmaker, “Take This Waltz,” is a frustrating creative step backwards. A story of hidden desires and brutal honesty, Polley takes on the enduring temptation of marital infidelity, or at least the consideration of such a brash endeavor, but approaches this critical dilemma of longing in a most unnatural manner, ornamenting the feature with quirks and indie music to set an artificial mood for an effort of supposed intimacy. While emotionally crippling in spurts, “Take This Waltz” remains frustratingly distant and processed, as though Polley couldn’t decide what type of characters she wanted to discover or what type of story to tell. For a picture of extreme concentration on a singular event, it feels hopelessly scattered and inconsequential.
Despite the film’s glacial pace and insistence on verbose exchanges of confessional dialogue meant to pass as purgings of self, “Take This Waltz” is missing a few too many pieces to successfully guide Margot into a position of soulful understanding. Polley is caught up in the dewy aura of attraction, taking her time playing with longing and coy smiles, building the bridge between Daniel and Margot with silent delay, not realistic electricity, a troubling gap in charm when one considers how little time the couple spends together before Margot is ready to torch her marriage. Perhaps the primary problem with “Take This Waltz” is that Margot and Daniel are never believable as potential lovers, a revelation rooted in Williams’s overly mannered performance (Margot comes across autistic, not idiosyncratic) and Kirby’s general stares of unease (frankly, he looks like he’d rather be wearing Margot’s skin as a suit). There should be this raging sea of turbulent feelings hidden behind shell-shocked looks and Canadian politeness, but Polley doesn’t manage the nuance of the coupling, only coloring around the dramatic inevitability of their mutual interest.
Polley aims to encapsulate the coziness of marriage, and how that rehearsed interplay suffocates the thrill of love. When the movie begins, Lou and Margot are observed as a playful pair with communication problems, ruining their attempts at intimacy. Unfortunately, Lou isn’t scripted with concentrated detail, only provided with a peculiar occupation (chicken cookbook author, which Polley uses as a sign of maddening schedule for Margot) to help solidify his screen presence, absent a larger personality to complicate the drama to an invigorating degree. Lou isn’t a bad guy and he isn’t a saint, just a weirdly passive figure in a weirdly passive picture. I wanted more from the character and Rogen’s performance, to bring some valid conflict to a script of perpetual hemming and hawing. Polley’s lost in the indie production daze, establishing a few bravura shots and enough symbolism to fuel a grad school filmmaking book. She loses a major chunk of the feature’s impact by treating Lou as wallpaper.
Of course, “Take This Waltz” isn’t about cheating, but Margot’s pursuit of thrills, studying the character as she gets high from Daniel’s vague plan of pursuit, a feeling she’s lost over the years to matrimonial sameness. It’s a fascinating approach to the storytelling formula, but eventually fails to provide an enveloping psychological study, buried underneath Polley’s preference for artificial melancholy.