Take This Waltz review

Think Blue Valentine with better sex.

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If Sarah Silverman's talk of “full frontal” in Sarah Polley’s second film prompts pervy thoughts, remember what happened the last time Polley made a film about adultery. Away From Her (2006) was stealthy, indie-smart, daring – and its OAP adulterer had Alzheimer’s.

So if the Canadian actor/director’s new dramedy of desire and discontent does get dirty, it’s also droll, conclusive proof of Polley’s probing talent. Grot it is not, keen character study it is.

Waltz traces the cracks in the marriage between 28-year-old writer Margot (Michelle Williams) and Lou (Seth Rogen), a chicken cookbook author.

From their playful banter and his taste for cooking over shagging, Polley undercuts any potential cutesiness by examining the calcifying effect contentment can have on romance.

You’ll guess where the plot is tugging when Margot meet-cutes Daniel (Luke Kirby), a rickshaw-pulling artist whose sex talk makes her chipmunk cheeks glow. But Polley finesses broad strokes with detail.

Feints, evasions, intimacies, indoor fireworks, angst-frayed flirtations: these are Polley’s moves. Amiably bloke-ish yet near boorish, Rogen’s acutely judged man-child schtick makes sense of Margot’s hot/cold feelings towards him.

But Williams rules in an emotionally raw turn, channelling Margot’s war between temptation and commitment until it pops from every flushed pore. Such is repression’s pain, though Polley offsets any hand-wringing with a sensitivity to pleasure.

A dirty-mouthed café seduction scene is mere foreplay for a dizzily rapturous fuck-fest sequence, scored to the titular Leonard Cohen song. The sun-ripened colour palette mirrors Margot’s volcanic longing, while a shower scene between Margot and her friends brims with unforced warmth and honesty.

If Polley does flirt with indie-quirk contrivance, it’s by overthinking certain characters and metaphors. Casting Silverman as an ex-alcoholic forces a ‘wayward compulsions’ theme; Dan’s manly moodiness verges on a cliché from Stephenie Meyer’s rejects pile.

A funfair metaphor borders on pat too, though canny use of The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ saves it by teasing out wistful themes of obsoleteness and change from beneath the song’s buoyant surface.

That’s Polley’s talent: she fears not the skin, the surface. But it’s in digging under it that she gets to the truths about love.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.