The thing that the Atlantic Film Festival always has going for it is that they show a lot of Canadian films. This means that we get to see a lot of films by promising new Canadian filmmakers that wouldn’t necessarily make it into the cinema. Especially in Halifax, where the cinema selection can be rather measly. Sometimes, however, this means that films are shown purely because they’re Canadian and not because of their merit as films. Tonight’s double feature at the Oxford Theatre were two very different movies. Comedian Russell Peters’ pet project Breakaway and Take This Waltz, Sarah Polley’s long awaited follow up to Away from Her.
Take This Waltz
My third film at this year’s festival, Sarah Polley’s Take This Waltz is a refreshing reminder that women in film are alive and kicking. Both Higher Ground and Sleeping Beauty were directed by a woman and so is this film. Sarah Polley vowed critics and audiences alike with her 2006 debut Away from Her. Like Away from Her, it is very deliberately paced. However, unlike that film, Take This Waltz does at time seem to lag a bit. At two hours, the film could have been cut down slightly. It tells the story of Margot (Michelle Williams), a writer from Toronto who is happily married to Lou (Seth Rogen), a chicken cookbook writer. When she meets Daniel (Luke Kirby) on a trip to Cape Breton, she’s thrown for a loop and has to make sense of her new-found feelings for Daniel and her marriage to Lou.
As the main character, Margot can be extremely infuriating. Constantly indecisive about everything, it is tempting to yell “What are you doing?” at the screen. However, the more sense she tries to make of her situation and her feelings, the more we as an audience are able to warm up to Margot and her choices. Credit should go to Michelle Williams for sticking with the role and being able to portray the very subtle shifts in character. The stand out performance of this movie, however, is Seth Rogen as Margot’s husband, Lou. This film is very different from his regular fare and as such the brilliance of Rogen’s acting comes entirely out of left field. He is able to at once be serious, funny and dynamic. Some of the scenes featuring confrontations between his and Williams’ character are downright heartbreaking, in large part because of Rogen’s earnest performance.
Take This Waltz clearly stems from the same artist’s mind as Away From Her and yet it is in many ways completely different as well as complimentary. Featuring another love triangle, we see the relationship from a different angle and under a different light. It is a truly inspired, warm and also heartbreaking experience.
Breakaway is extremely Canadian. Obviously, since it focuses on a hockey team and takes place in Toronto. It tells the story of Indian-born Rajveer Singh who loves nothing more than to play hockey and is actually pretty good at it. But his traditional parents don’t exactly approve and want him to succeed at a more normal career. Sound familiar? Bend It Like Beckham anyone? Unfortunately this is practically a carbon copy of that far far superior film. It even has Anupam Kher reprising his role as the non-understanding traditional Sikh dad. Unfortunately for Breakaway it doesn’t have the charming leading lady that Bend It Like Beckham had in Parminder Nagra. Vinay Virmani, who plays Rajveer, is cute but doesn’t have the acting chops to pull off the leading role. Unfortunately he also has a pretty lazy script to work with, full of clunky one liners and terrible clichés.
After last year’s disappointing hockey musical Score, you’d think Canadian filmmakers would have learned their lesson on overly precocious Canadian fare but unfortunately Breakaway isn’t a step in the right direction.
– Laura Holtebrinck