July 3 2012 01:30 PM

Sarah Polley's sophomore directorial effort is one of the most satisfying films of the year

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The amazing Michelle Williams, with Seth Rogen

I can't think of another actor who's done as much consistently great work in recent years as Michelle Williams. She's turned in wonderful performances in Meek's Cutoff, Shutter Island and Blue Valentine, and she was nominated for an Oscar for My Week with Marilyn. Those films found her inhabiting entirely different characters—like Meryl Streep, Williams creates completely different people for each role, never falling back into something that seems safe and familiar. But I like her even more in her latest film, Take This Waltz, which opens Friday, July 6, at Hillcrest Cinemas and is, for me, one of the most satisfying movies of the year.

The movie, pitted this coming weekend against the new Spider-man, was written and directed by Sarah Polley, who's still best known as an actor, though this marks the second understated, emotional movie she's crafted, the last one being Away From Her, which earned Julie Christie an Oscar nom. Polley is Canadian—as is Leonard Cohen, from whose song the title is derived—and the movie has a north-of-the-border feel to it.

Williams plays Margot, a Toronto woman happily married to cookbook author Lou (Seth Rogen, another Canadian, in a remarkably restrained role). They make a wonderful couple, the kind of goofy marrieds who get along so well that you wish you could hang out with them. Margot's always been the wistful type, though, and it's possible that she feels there's something missing in her life, some kind of spark, some kind of intimacy that she doesn't have with her husband.

She does, however, find some of that in Daniel, who's played by Luke Kirby, yet another Canuck, who starred on Slings and Arrows, that Canadian TV show that all of your theater friends rave about. Daniel's a good-looking guy whom Margot meets on the plane on her way home from a business trip. The two have real chemistry, and they both know it, but she's married, and despite the mutual attraction, they wordlessly agree that nothing should happen. It's perfectly natural to be with someone and be attracted to someone else, and it would all go down as just a strange encounter, but they discover that the reason they look familiar to one another is that they live on the same block, a simple fact of geography that's going to spell trouble for everyone.

You could call this a movie about infidelity, I guess, but I don't really think that's the case. Margot has no desire to hurt her husband and no desire to uproot her life.But she's drawn to Daniel, and he's drawn to her, and as cliché as that sounds, Williams makes you understand it and believe it. She's in terrible pain and is incredibly excited, and while all of this is going on, while she's figuring out what she needs to do, she still dearly loves Lou.

It's wonderful and wonderfully tragic at the same time. And, oh yeah, sexy, too. Though the best sex scene— and there are a number of very nude, very thrusting, very surprising sex scenes—takes place in a coffee shop, with the participants clothed and using just their voices and eyes.

Williams is amazing here, fearless and shameless and naked, emotionally and literally. And she's not alone. Though he's really the third wheel, Rogen is charming and refreshing. This is the Seth Rogen of Freaks & Geeks, a fun, snarky, regular guy rather than the over-the-top stoner meathead he's become.

He's very good here, as is Sarah Silverman, who surprises as his alcoholic sister.

Meanwhile, the bond between Margot and Daniel is palpable and oddly relatable, turning Take This Waltz into the sort of movie that makes you feel nostalgic for a life and loves that you never had, even though it's also messy and upsetting.

Write to anders@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com. You can follow Anders on Twitter at @anderswright.

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