An Afternoon 'Waltz' in the Dark at Tribeca

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Though it had its premiere earlier in the festival, Sarah Polley's new film Take This Waltz, her second writing and directing effort after 2006's Away From Her, had another Tribeca Film Festival screening this afternoon for press stragglers like myself and, you know, the public. With a cast of Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, and Sarah Silverman, and Polley's own industry cred, it was certainly a hot ticket, with a rush line about 50 people long and every seat in the theater filled.

It's a funny experience to see a movie in this way — being at a screening, something that sounds very clinical and presentational. One feels the pressure to be a bit removed about the whole thing, to be looking at the movie scientifically. This is work after all, we are at a film festival and so are rigorous and discerning consumers of cinema. There we've just been, obsessing over the access we're granted, haggling with some hapless volunteer about whether we have to wait in line or not depending on what's written on a piece of plastic hanging like something from summer camp around our necks, constantly reminded to fill out our Heineken viewers' choice award ballots, tweeting delicate brags about where we are at the moment (don't forget to hashtag!). It's all very businesslike and trumped up. It doesn't immediately seem like an environment that would allow for anything to really sink in the way that movies, when seen on our own terms, so often can and should.

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With this kind of brisk and task-oriented viewing, a particular film might affect us, but we shouldn't let it really get in and chew away at us in anything less than an intellectual way. This is of course an absurd thing to feel — film critics certainly become emotionally invested in things they see all the time, it's clear in many of their reviews — but nonetheless at this kind of event, an elaborate affair during which, in theory, one sees several films in a day, there's an urge to be a little smarter or savvier than any one particular movie. We can watch and enjoy and learn but there's a higher purpose to it. One film is just a part of a bigger whole, an addition to a list that will be used to measure an overall experience. Or at least it felt that way to me before this afternoon.

This isn't exactly to say that I was bowled over by Take This Waltz, but I did find myself sort of stumbling out of the theater feeling far more affected and frankly blindsided than I expected to be. Polley, who wrote this script from scratch rather than adapting as she did with Away From Her, tells a fairly simple story: A young woman (Williams) is contentedly if not happily married to a nice guy (Rogen) until something stirs in her when she meets a handsome stranger who happens to live across the street (he's played by Luke Kirby, a Canadian actor and an alum of Slings & Arrows, on which both Polley and her father appeared). Will she stay with the simple thing she's got and avoid creating a mess, or will she follow her blurry heart (and other parts) and shack up with this tall, dark, handsome artist.

What she ultimately chooses to do isn't all that revolutionary, but Polley paints in such vivid colors, scores her film with such wistfully transporting music, that she still manages to create a uniquely immersive world of feeling. It's a movie as magic spell or hypnosis, of shabby, shaggy urban bohemianism (the film takes place in Toronto, a city shot beautifully by cinematographer Luc Montpellier) that's a collection of melancholy afternoons and swallowed wishes. The film is overly long and has an atonal subplot involving Silverman that doesn't quite sit right (it basically serves as a giant metaphor that feels unnecessary), so it's by no means perfect, but I still felt pretty unprofessional as I staggered out into gray New York City (but it was just colorful Canadian summer!) lost in a haze of thoughts and unexpected feeling.

Basically this is a long way of saying that it's nice that, despite the badges and rules and marketing synergy and whatnot in play at this thing, the movies themselves can still work their innate magic. Ultimately, no matter our credentials or professional reasons for being there, we're just people sitting in the dark in the middle of the afternoon, being told a story. We're taken somewhere new, where we're all allowed access.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.