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For Your Consideration: 'Take This Waltz'

The "starter marriage," which lasts for five years and ends in divorce generally before children are born, is an actual Generation X phenomenon. Many people are just not getting married, or doing things in unorthodox order (co-habitating, having kids, and then getting married), or they get married early, only to discover that maybe they did not really mean for better or for worse. The goal of Sarah Polley's sometimes absorbing, mostly self-absorbed new film Take This Waltz is to dissect the emotional mechanics of how one starter marriage, not the entire trend, dissolves. This is the young Canadian actress/filmmaker's second feature, after a breakout success in 2007 with Away from Her, which featured Julie Christy also fleeing from a marriage, but as an older woman suffering from Alzheimer's.

Take This Waltz follows a much younger couple, a frustrated writer named Margot (an irresistibly cute Michelle Williams) and her chicken cookbook-writer husband, Lou (a sweet-hearted but somewhat flat Seth Rogen), in their delightfully quirky home in Toronto. On a trip to a historical reenactment theme park, to help her write the boilerplate in the park's publicity materials, she meets Daniel (a smooth Luke Kirby), apparently Toronto's wealthiest, artiest rickshaw driver, who just happens to live across the street from her. Margot loves Lou and loves his loud-mouthed but loving family, and her life seems happy, but for whatever reason, in a tale at least as old as Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina, she cannot stop herself from wondering about what life would be like with Daniel instead of her husband. (It is probably not coincidental that Polley's own first marriage, in 2003 to film editor David Wharnsby, who edited Away from Her, ended in divorce in 2008, although Polley has downplayed the parallels.) Polley's screenplay is witty and does not take sides, although it takes about twenty minutes too long to reach its conclusion.

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Different viewers will likely react in different ways to the crisis of this film and perhaps feel sympathetic toward one of the three characters. All three, however, have their responsibility in the problem. The husband has settled all too quickly into a quietly domestic life: the affectionate baby talk between the couple is a little nauseating in its cuteness, with a funny twist in which they sweetly tell each other ways in which they will hurt each other. The wife, after having the rickshaw driver fall across her path, continues to seek him out, craving the freshness of a new sexual adventure, something a graphic montage of threesomes shows she gets. The other man, to his credit, waits to make his final move on the wife when he learns she is married, but pushes his seduction until their marriage falls apart. They are, in a way, just as helpless in their behavior as Lou's alcoholic sister, played with smirking honesty by comedian Sarah Silverman.

The film's title comes from the Leonard Cohen song, about love and regret in Vienna, based on a poem ("Pequeño vals vienés") by Federico García Lorca. In keeping with the grand gesture of the inclusion of that song, the failure of the film is that it tries too long to philosophize over the outcome of this unfortunate failed marriage. Margot may have regrets, but they should have already been foreseen by a funny group shower scene, in which naked women of all shapes and sizes speak about the relative advantages of staying with one person or taking a gamble on someone new. Perhaps not wanting to pass judgment, Polley does not revisit that idea explicitly but drags out the film's ending. While this film is not a success, Polley will hopefully get to write and direct the film she reportedly wanted to make, about the trials of a child actress -- likely based on her own experiences in that regard, as a child actor.

This film opens today in Washington, D.C., exclusively at Landmark's E Street Cinema.

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