Michelle Williams is a beautiful moper. The actress' blue eyes go misty, her gaze turns forlorn, her lips tremble almost indecipherably. And even when things are all hunky-dory, there's a wistfulness about her, a soft kiss of tragedy.
And so it doesn't take much for Margot, the Toronto freelance writer Williams plays in Sarah Polley's luminous romance Take This Waltz, to dip her toes in a swimming pool of melancholy. And then she goes swimming with the handsome, sweet, funny artist dude she's tumbled into a heated affair with.
And therein lies the dilemma Margot finds herself in. Daniel (Luke Kirby) - whom she first meets in Nova Scotia, where she's working on a travel story, and then finds herself seated next to on the plane trip home, and then again sharing a cab in which they discover they actually live on the very same street - could be The Guy. There's only one problem: Margot is already married.
Seth Rogen, low-key and lovable, is Lou, a chef working on a chicken-only cookbook. He and Margot live in a sunny Toronto house filled with Etsy-esque objets, and do their respective writing at home, too. There are cozy cafes in the neighborhood, and there are friends and family dropping by (potty-mouthed stand-up star Sarah Silverman is Lou's sister, Geraldine). Margot bakes muffins in a vintage oven. The couple coo and baby talk and tease each other. Their interactions are almost smotheringly cute, and maybe that's how Margot's beginning to feel - smothered.
And so desire and fantasy kick in, and Daniel just keeps popping up, and courting her, and soon Margot and this man are going for long walks and long talks and she's looking out the window to see if he's passing by, what he's up to.
Polley, an actress who made her writing and directing feature debut with the heartbreaking Julie Christie Alzheimer's story Away From Her, gives Williams and Kirby all the room they need to explore their characters' blossoming relationship: the obsessiveness, the recklessness, the physical longing, the sense of discovery. And for Williams' Margot, the sense of guilt and pain. Lou is not a jerk. He doesn't deserve this.
Take This Waltz, which takes its title from the Leonard Cohen song, does a little too much rambling and shambling, and its final time-lapse montage seems like a real lapse in judgment to me. But Williams lives and breathes her role, Kirby is charming and real, and you actually start to ache and empathize with Rogen - the emptiness and heartache he conveys when Lou and Margot finally thrash things out is crushing. And it's a surprise, coming from the usually clownish star.
Take This Waltz *** (Out of four stars)
Directed by Sarah Polley. With Michelle Williams, Luke Kirby, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman. Distributed by Magnet Pictures.
Running time: 1 hour, 56 mins.
Parent's guide: R (sex, nudity, profanity, adult themes).
Playing at: Ritz Five.