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 short story “The Bear Came Over the Mountain” 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
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 come back to the comfort of intimacy that we may achieve only a handful of times.
Long before I ever put pen to paper (or fingers on the keys) as a critic, I was a kid engrossed in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, overcome by the sense that a film could be considered on critical grounds as you might a novel or a piece of visual art. And years later, having spent time doing so, first in classrooms and eventually in print for more than a decade now, I am still in search of those fleeting moments that remind me of that feeling, during Blue Velvet’s opening weekend, when I went back again and again. Nothing else, not my love of music or sports has triggered that same response, that awakening of a passion. Film is the comfort food that sustains me.
But it is that lack of passion that drives Margot to surrender to the hope and fear embodied by this new man in her life. Maybe he will be what she wants and needs. In many ways, she is a reflection of Christie’s character in Away From Her, a woman who has lived with a husband’s infidelity and shut herself off, but who, thanks to Alzheimer’s, is now free to start anew emotionally, to take on a new partner in a brand new dance. And yet, both women face moments where they see the value and comfort of those old grooves.
Take This Waltz plays small, truthfully much moreso than Away From Her, but it meets the demand of home viewing quite nicely. (R) Grade: B