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Tim Grierson on the Indie Gem “Take This Waltz”

Take This Waltz

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A few years ago, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association (of which I’m a member) bestowed its annual New Generation award to Sarah Polley. It might have seemed like an odd pick: Polley had been an actress of some acclaim since the 1990s, compelling in everything from “The Sweet Hereafter” to “Go” to the “Dawn of the Dead” remake. But the prize was given to her for her new career, that as the director of “Away From Her,” the elegant 2007 romantic drama starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent that was based on Alice Munro’s short story about an aging couple coping with one partner’s encroaching Alzheimer’s. Polley had proved herself an extremely gifted presence in front of the camera — what a pleasant surprise that she was just as capable behind it.

The worry about giving out a New Generation award is whether the recipient will be able to live up to his or her early promise. Thankfully, in the case of Polley, her second film as a director, “Take This Waltz,” is just as rewarding. You may have missed it during the heat of summer movie season, but it will be arriving on DVD on Tuesday. It’s definitely worth seeking out.

“Take This Waltz” is a romantic drama like “Away From Her,” but this time around she’s focusing on characters closer to her own age. And she’s not adapting another writer’s work this time — “Take This Waltz” is an original screenplay, one that concerns a romantic triangle in which there are no clear good guys or bad guys. Polley offers no simple solutions for either her characters or the audience.

The movie stars Michelle Williams as Margot, a young woman living in Toronto who approaches her 30th birthday with some trepidation. Yes, she’s married to a loving, sweet guy named Lou (Seth Rogen), but their adorable life together doesn’t leave her fully fulfilled — a fact we pick up on when the movie opens and she’s flirting with an artist named Daniel (Luke Kirby) while out of town on a quick trip. It seems like a passing sensation, nothing more, but she quickly discovers that she and Daniel live on the same block. She shouldn’t hang out with him once she gets home, but, well, she likes the guy’s company.

Their relationship, which is actually just a friendship, serves as the heart of “Take This Waltz,” and Polley never fully suggests what Margot should do: dump her husband or tell Daniel that nothing can happen between them. The movie quite confidently resides in an ambiguous middle ground, which shifts the emphasis toward Margot rather than the two men in her life. As Polley makes clear, Margot isn’t really choosing between Lou and Daniel: She’s picking between different futures, different mindsets, different paths to follow. In other words, Margot is really trying to figure out who she’s supposed to be, and “Take This Waltz” can be achingly poignant in its portrayal of this bright but lost young woman.

This isn’t to say that “Take This Waltz” is flawless. In their attempts to show Margot’s confusion, Polley and Williams sometimes risk turning the character into a self-absorbed, overly cutesy pushover. And the film sometimes meanders. But those defects have a way of becoming strengths, giving the story a relatable messiness that’s in keeping with the characters’ unfinished, hesitant lives. And Williams’s co-stars are great. Kirby steals the movie and has received the lion’s share of the praise, giving Daniel a sensual, sensitive magnetism that’s hard to resist, but Rogen’s role is in some ways trickier. He’s stuck playing the nice-guy husband, but he and Polley make him a fully developed character, alternately loving and irritating in a way that those closest to us can be.

Perhaps it’s impossible to transcend the clichés of the romantic-triangle storyline, but you have to give Polley credit for the sincerity and insights she brings to a seemingly familiar scenario. It’s a sign of this film’s smarts that even at the end I wasn’t entirely sure if Margot had made the right decision — I feel pretty positive Polley isn’t, either. Like few movies, “Take This Waltz” understands that not many people find that one perfect soul mate — instead, it’s a question of making certain compromises to find happiness. If you’re not careful, this movie can break your heart. And after seeing it, you may have a hard time hearing the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star” without getting a little melancholy.

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Thank Azaria

Best. Characters. Ever.

Our favorite Hank Azaria characters.

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GIFs via Giphy

Hank Azaria may well be the most prolific voice and character actor of our time. The work he’s done for The Simpsons alone has earned him a permanent place in the pop culture zeitgeist. And now he’s bringing another character to the mainstream: a washed-up sports announcer named Jim Brockmire, in the aptly titled new series Brockmire.

We’re looking forward to it. So much so that we want to look backward, too, with a short-but-sweet retrospective of some of Azaria’s important characters. Shall we begin?

Half The Recurring Simpsons Characters

He’s Comic Book Guy. He’s Chief Wiggum. He’s Apu. He’s Cletus. He’s Snake. He’s Superintendent Chalmers. He’s the Sea Captain. He’s Kurt “Can I Borrow A Feeling” Van Houten. He’s Professor Frink. He’s Carl. And he’s many more. But most importantly he’s Moe Szyslak, the staple character Azaria has voiced since his very first audition for The Simpsons.

Oh, and He’s Frank Grimes

For all the regular Simpsons characters Azaria has played over the years, his most brilliant performance may have been a one-off: Frank Grimes, the scrappy bootstrapper who worked tirelessly all his life for honest, incremental, and easily-undermined success. Azaria’s portrayal of this character was nuanced, emotional, and simply magical.

Patches O’Houlihan

Dodgeball is a “sport of violence, exclusion and degradation.” as Hank Azaria generously points out in his brief but crucial cameo in Dodgeball. That’s sage wisdom. Try applying his “five D’s” to your life on and off the court and enjoy the results.

Harold Zoid

Of Futurama fame. The crazy uncle of Dr. Zoidberg, Harold Zoid was once a lion (or lobster) of the silver screen until Smell-o-vision forced him into retirement.

Agador

The Birdcage was significant for many reasons, and the comic genius of Hank Azaria’s character “Agador” sits somewhere towards the top of that list. If you haven’t seen this movie, shame on you.

Gargamel

Nobody else could make a live-action Gargamel possible.

Ed Cochran

From Ray Donovan. Great character, great last name [editorial note: the author of this article may be bias].

Kahmunra, The Thinker, Abe Lincoln

All in the Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, a file that let Azaria flex his voice acting and live-action muscles in one fell swoop.

The Blue Raja

Mystery Men has everything, including a fatal case of Smash Mouth. Azaria’s iconic superhero makes the shortlist of redeemable qualities, though.

Dr. Huff

Huff put Azaria in a leading role, and it was good. So good that there is no good gif of it. Internet? More like Inter-not.

Learn more about Hank Azaria’s newest claim to fame right here, and don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Flame Out

Brockmire and Other Public Implosions

Brockmire Premieres April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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There’s less than a month until the Brockmire premiere, and to say we’re excited would be an insulting understatement. It’s not just that it stars Hank Azaria, who can do no wrong (and yes, that’s including Mystery Men, which is only cringeworthy because of Smash Mouth). It’s that the whole backstory of the titular character, Jim Brockmire, is the stuff of legends. A one-time iconic sportscaster who won the hearts of fans and players alike, he fell from grace after an unfortunate personal event triggered a seriously public meltdown. See for yourself in the NSFW Funny or Die digital short that spawned the IFC series:

See? NSFW and spectacularly catastrophic in a way that could almost be real. Which got us thinking: What are some real-life sports fails that have nothing to do with botched athletics and everything to do with going tragically off script? The internet is a dark and dirty place, friends, but these three examples are pretty special and mostly safe for work…

Disgruntled Sports Reporter

His co-anchor went offsides and he called it like he saw it.

Jim Rome vs Jim “Not Chris” Everett

You just don’t heckle a professional athlete when you’re within striking distance. Common sense.

Carl Lewis’s National Anthem

He killed it! As in murdered. It’s dead.

To see more moments just like these, we recommend spending a day in your pajamas combing through the muckiness of the internet. But to see something that’s Brockmire-level funny without having to clear your browser history, check out the sneak peeks and extras here.

Don’t miss the premiere of Brockmire April 5 at 10P on IFC.

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Mirror, Mirror

Portlandia Season 7 In Hindsight

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available Online and on the IFC App.

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Another season of Portlandia is behind us, and oh what a season it was. We laughed. We cried. And we chuckled uncomfortably while glancing nervously around the room. Like every season before it, the latest Portlandia has held a mirror up to ridiculousness of modern American life, but more than ever that same mirror has reflected our social reality in ways that are at once hysterical and sneakily thought-provoking. Here are just a few of the issues they tackled:

Nationalism

So long, America, Portland is out! And yes, the idea of Portland seceding is still less ludicrous than building a wall.

Men’s Rights

We all saw this coming. Exit gracefully, dudes.

Protests

Whatever you stand for, stand for it together. Or with at least one other person.

Free Love

No matter who we are or how we love, deep down we all have the ability to get stalky.

Social Status

Modern self-esteem basically hinges on likes, so this isn’t really a stretch at all.

These moments are just the tip of the iceberg, and much more can be found in the full seventh season of #Portlandia, available right now #online and on the #IFC app.

via GIPHY

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