She spins right round, round, round on the indoor Scrambler, the pretty, unhappy wife Margot (Academy Award-nominee Michelle Williams), gazing into the eyes of her handsome neighbor Daniel (Luke Kirby) while bombarded by disco lights and the ’80s pop song “Video Killed the Radio Star” by The Buggles.
Margot, the central character of the broken romance Take This Waltz, rides the Scrambler at Toronto’s Centre Island amusement park because that’s what filmmaker and actress Sarah Polley remembers doing over and over; always with The Buggles blasting on the loudspeakers.
“Whenever I go on the Scrambler, I’m lucky because that’s what they’re playing, ‘Video Killed the Radio Star,'” Polley says, with complete seriousness. “I just feel that this song is a metaphor for the film. It’s about things replacing other things.”
Polley’s sophomore feature film may borrow its title from the classic Leonard Cohen song but it’s The Buggles who receive the spotlight in the key scene where Margot falls for a man other than her husband Lou (Seth Rogen).
Take This Waltz borrows much from the personal life of its 33-year-old director. Toronto’s west end neighborhoods where Polley lived including Little Portugal, Little Italy, Queen West and Kensington Market and local landmarks like The Royal Cinema, Trinity Bellwoods Park and Community Centre Pool and The Lakeview Restaurant provide a working class background as Margot looks to energize her life with an affair over the course of a hot Toronto summer.
The film, with its Instagram-inspired colors and charged erotic content may feel worlds part from Polley’s acclaimed directing debut Away from Her, a subtle drama featuring veteran actress Julie Christie as a wife facing Alzheimer’s and its impact on her husband, a man burdened by the bad choices he made early in their marriage.
Yet, Polley says that her script for Take This Waltz came directly from her experience editing Away from Her some six years ago. “I had just looked at the end of a very long marriage and I was curious to look at a marriage earlier in life,” adds Polley. “I wanted
to make a movie where we see the beginning of desire and the beginning of falling in love.”
Appropriately, I meet the filmmaker in a downtown Toronto hotel, not very far from the locations for Take This Waltz. Polley starts off the chat funny and self-effacing, joking about how she comes off humorless in her interviews. Perhaps, Polley often turns serious because she’s careful about her work on either side of the camera. As an actress, she collaborates with master directors such as Wim Wenders, David Cronenberg, Atom Egoyan and Terry Gilliam. As a director, she aims to make movies that would make her mentors proud.
It’s amazing to think that Polley is only 33 despite all she’s accomplished. The young actress who first became famous in Canada thanks to her role in the TV series Road to Avonlea grew into the first-time filmmaker with the “old soul,” someone capable of understanding the elderly characters of Away from Her. With the new film, Polley intentionally pushes the artistic envelope while tackling a brutally honest melodrama with ambiguous characters that audiences may either love or hate depending on their own backgrounds.
Past recognitions include Variety listing her on their “10 Directors To Watch” list and an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay for Away from Her. It all leads to a reputation as a significant new talent; one capable of convincing Seth Rogen to trust her with his first dramatic role and for actresses Michelle Williams and Sarah Silverman to feel comfortable and supportive with the film’s explicit sex scenes.
Take This Waltz, Polley points out, is a story about love, sex and wife’s need to change her life. The nudity and the sex scenes are integral to the story.
“I think sexuality is a big part of the movie and how addictive it is,” Polley says. “To shy away from the nudity would be very obvious and strange and prudish. I was committed to not shying away form the sexuality and at the same time I didn’t like the idea of all the nudity having a sexual context. I wanted to shoot a scene where people are naked and have casualness and ordinariness and not be illicit in any way.”
Polley embraces the erotic spirit of Take This Waltz with an edgy, 360-degree, rotating group sex scene near the end of the movie involving Williams and Silverman. The scene, while titillating, is meant to show how desperate Williams’ character is to try anything new and how nothing stays thrilling for long.
As someone who’s been married twice, Polley understands the need for Margot to move on from a longtime relationship and try something new. Although, there is one thing she wants to make clear to those making deep connections between her life and Take This Waltz.
“I personally have not had a threesome,” Polley says with a chuckle. It’s a credit to the potency of Take This Waltz that Polley even has to answer the question.
Take This Waltz opens in select theaters June 29 via Magnolia Pictures and expands nationwide throughout the summer.