Albert Camus had a line about love. He said that we lie to ourselves twice about those we love: the first time to their advantage; the second time to their disadvantage. In this impressive relationship drama from Canadian actress-turned-director Sarah Polley, Michelle Williams is telling both lies at once. She is Margot, a struggling 28-year-old Toronto writer who is falling out of love with her husband Lou (Seth Rogen). He’s the kindest, gentlest man she’s ever met – perfect husband material five years ago. Now, nice is suffocating. When she meets artist Daniel (Luke Kirby), he is everything Lou isn’t. Margot convinces herself that Daniel could be The One.
Polley is clearly fascinated by the way people behave in long-term relationships. In her debut, ‘Away From Her’ (directed when she was just 28), she looked at the effects of Alzheimer’s on a long-married couple. In ‘Take This Waltz’ Margot and Lou are the kind of hand-holding, cute couple that friends and family assume are for keeps. He writes chicken cookbooks (a bit of a heavy-handed metaphor this: chicken being the blandest of meats). They’ve slipped into the tics and habits of cosy relationships: babytalking and playfighting (stuff that would be excruciating if anyone else overheard).
The acting is terrific. Rogen brings a breakable sweetness to Lou that he’s never shown before. Sarah Silverman is perfect as his brittle, recovering alcoholic sister – she’s the only one who spots the storm coming in Lou’s marriage. As for Williams, I could watch her for hours. There’s an extraordinary scene where she takes Daniel on her favourite fairground ride and loses herself completely to its thrills and spills. This, you sense, is how she wants love to feel. But that intensity can’t last. It’s a subtle, complex portrait of arrested development: there’s something unfinished about Margot. She’s a pretty girl who never grew up.
‘Take This Waltz’ is not quite the knockout that fans of ‘Away From Her’ might hope for; there’s a few too many flounces and false notes. The scene in which Margot and Daniel meet is fussy and implausible. Polley obviously thinks we see too much lady-flesh on screen for titillation (she’s right). So she inserts a clumsy nude scene in a gym changing room – where women of all shapes and sizes take showers.
Still, this is a hard-headed, generous film about love. Not that it’s got any definite answers. Should Margot stay with Lou? Will she be happier with Daniel? Or, to quote a writer more cynical than Camus, is love ‘a temporary insanity curable by marriage’?