So there's this couple. She's an anxious and unproductive writer (or something — her days are unencumbered by routine or responsibility). He works hard (he's laboring on a chicken cookbook and therefore never far from a poultry-filled skillet or stockpot or oven) but does this at home, the better to be near his wife. Their rambling home, with its dark wood and churchy light and shelves of colored-glass bottles, looks to be on loan from some older, wiser marrieds. Their laughter together comes easily, though maybe from different places.
For instance: His idea of a joke is tossing a pitcher of cold water onto his showering wife and letting her believe, day after day, that it's a plumbing problem. Hers is humoring the seduction plea of a rickshaw driver, whom she meets on a solo trip to Nova Scotia, who turns out to live across the street from her. Neither is funny. One has consequences.
The wife is Margot, a welter of self-conscious inertia and is-this-all-there-is confusion, conveyed flawlessly by Michelle Williams. The husband is Lou, who grins and honks and scowls like Seth Rogen because he is played — quietly and well — by Seth Rogen. The interloper is Daniel, and Luke Kirby delivers his lines, which suggest one part brooding artist to one and a half parts phone-sex addict, with enough matter-of-factness to make the character's occupation irrelevant (besides being one of several overdetermined metaphors here).
It's not easy, turning a Canadian rickshaw driver into the Dirty Harry of wife-stealing, but writer-director Sarah Polley almost pulls it off. The 33-year-old, Toronto-born actress follows her feature-directing debut, 2006's wintry gut punch Away From Her, with a warmer palette and a younger cast trained on a similar question: When does a marriage expire?
The previous film took as its template an Alice Munro story. Polley has again written the screenplay here, but — other than lifting her title from the other Canadian bard, Leonard Cohen — she's on her own, ideawise. The result feels like a Canadian Sofia Coppola movie, a lush feat of sometimes distracting art direction and formally astute montage (Polley has major allies in director of photography Luc Montpellier and editor Christopher Donaldson) held together with monochromatic dialogue. (Sarah Silverman, playing Lou's alcoholic sister, nearly mends the script's frays by herself with one late-movie scene.) Like Somewhere or Lost in Translation, Take This Waltz is absurd as drama but haunting as a dream — a dream of selfishness made somehow enriching.