TAKE THIS WALTZ (2012, Sarah Polley): 8/10
There’s a line late in the film when the neighbor, visiting the protagonists’ house for a party, says to the husband: “Good luck with the chicken.” The husband is an author of cookbooks, and his latest venture is called “Tastes Like Chicken,” so he blithely assumes that’s what the neighbor means. But we know more. Michelle Williams’s Margot character has spent an hour of the film displaying various degrees of fear (and talking about them endlessly) and lack of courage, so it’s clear that the chicken in this line is Margot.
I can see how some viewers may think that line — and a number of other Oh-A-Double-Meaning! bits of dialogue — turns the film into an overscripted piece of indie pretentiousness, but it totally won me over. A slow burn without an explosion, TAKE THIS WALTZ positions Polley as the Canadian Hou Hsiao-hsien. For a while you think you’re watching MILLENNIUM MAMBO set in Toronto. The visuals are gorgeous — precise compositions, bold color choices, and delicate lighting — and the acting exquisite. Williams is just ridiculously good here — this performance is the stuff dreams are made of, and I dare say she’s the equivalent of Joaquin Phoenix in THE MASTER for the year’s single best acting turn. I’ve appreciated her before, not only in Dawson’s Creek but in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, THE BAXTER, BLUE VALENTINE, MEEK’S CUTOFF, and others, but this is the best she’s ever been. It’s a quietly powerful turn, saying as much with the droop of an eyebrow or the curl of a lip as with her dialogue.
If there’s a flaw in this film it’s with the neighbor character, Daniel, played by Luke Kirby. He seems the most like a two-dimensional figure in place of a real person, serving mostly to push along Margot’s story. Who are his friends? Family? What interests does he have besides his artwork? He does nothing but jog around with a rickshaw and wait for Margot to leave her house so they can hang out. He’s too much of a cipher, but luckily we have Seth Rogen’s perfectly modulated Lou as a counter: he’s a nice guy without having any passion, a decent husband without being great. A bit complacent, but charming nonetheless.
But this movie belongs to Williams, and to Polley — whose camera knows just how to relax and discover, using great music cues (’80s pop has never been so haunting or resonant) and pregnant pauses and cuts. Margot may be a chicken, but Sarah Polley is unfailingly brave.