Margot (Michelle Williams) should be happy — she's young, married to a nice guy named Lou (Seth Rogen) and lives in a cute house in the heart of Toronto. But on a work trip, she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), a flirty artist who turns out to be a neighbor. This meeting discombobulates Margot enough that she spends the ensuing summer growing increasingly dissatisfied with what she has with Lou, and desirous of what she might be missing with Daniel. Take This Waltz, written and directed by Sarah Polley, is a character study of Margot and her indecision about whether to leave the familiar for something new.
The film's problem isn't the material. This sort of free-floating discontent is common enough, even among privileged twentysomethings, and worthy of a thoughtful study. Margot's sister-in-law Geraldine (Sarah Silverman) counsels to no avail: "Life has a gap in it. … It just does. You don't go crazy trying to fill it." Similarly, a low-key examination of infidelity from a woman's perspective is rare enough to be intriguing.
Nor is it the actors: Rogen delivers a nice understated portrayal, and Williams is wonderful as an infuriatingly conflicted girl-woman. And for once, Toronto plays itself, a lively, colorful summer playground of cafes, street markets and parks.
So the right pieces are in place, and I might have forgiven the film's shaggy length. But for an indie mood piece, Take This Waltz is overwritten, with themes verbalized, then heavily underlined with visuals, musical cues or both. (Polley's last film, 2006's Alzheimer's drama Away From Her, was adapted from Alice Munro's economically written short story.) The film rightly eschews melodrama in favor of small scenes, and a more confident director would have trusted viewers to absorb the work's emotional power organically.
Instead, a trip to the gym states one of the film's central themes: "New things get old," says one of the naked wrinkly fat old ladies to the naked lithe young women, as the camera cuts twice between the two groups. Later, the film's most exhilaratingly romantic scene, in which Margot and Daniel take a carnival ride, is scored with "Video Killed the Radio Star," a lament about the new growing old and being discarded for something shinier. The song — and swoony, dreamlike moment — stop abruptly when the ride clanks to a halt.
Ironically, all three characters are marked by an inability to communicate clearly, and Take This Waltz is intermittently engaging because of its stumbling, inarticulate protagonists. If only Polley had dialed back the some of her unnecessary clarity in depicting their travails.