The smile is mis­lead­ing

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film Reviews -

SHE LOOKS sorta like Michelle Wil­liams. But what’s that thing on her face? What now? A smile? Ms Wil­liams, an ac­tor who is rarely mis­taken for Goldie Hawn, fi­nally gets a shot at lev­ity in Sarah Pol­ley’s de­cep­tively sunny moral­ity play, just be­fore she’s obliged to re­vert back to her fa­mil­iar mis­er­ab­list tropes.

At times, Wil­liams’s Mar­got could in­deed pass for a rom­com hero­ine. Our girl is a hap­pily mar­ried as­pir­ing writer when she bumps into rick­shaw jockey Daniel (Luke Kirby), a cheeky sod who an­noys and in­trigues her in equal mea­sure. Their chance en­counter is ex­tended when it tran­spires – in a shock movie co­in­ci­dence – that Daniel and Mar­got live across the street from one an­other. Will chem­istry lure her away from Lou (Seth Ro­gen), her cud­dly, chick­en­recipe writ­ing hus­band?

The set-up says Jen­nifer Anis­ton but writer-di­rec­tor Sarah Pol­ley’s treat­ment screams Liv Ull­man. Fol­low­ing on from her sur­gi­cally pre­cise, un­blink­ing Alzheimer’s drama Away From Her, the ac­tor-turned-film­maker makes bril­liant use of nat­u­ral­is­tic pat­ter and ob­ser­va­tional beats.

Pol­ley’s pro­found screen­play pro­vides a steady drip feed of dou­ble mean­ings. Early on, Mar­got un­wit­tingly nails her own short­com­ings when she ap­pears in an un­nec­es­sary wheel­chair at the air­port. She doesn’t like tran­si­tion pe­ri­ods or be­ing alone, she ex­plains. The re­marks dan­gle like Damo­cles over the pic­ture.

Dra­matic ironies pile up: Wil­liams, fresh from My Week with Mar­i­lyn, adopts a creepy baby-doll voice to de­liver sadis­tic sweet noth­ings to her spouse at home while es­tab­lish­ing a sim­i­lar se­ries of cou­ple in-jokes else­where. Her re­spec­tive foils are ex­cel­lent: Kirby is win­ningly brash, Ro­gen slyly low-key.

Pol­ley re­peat­edly de­ploys pic­turesque point­ers from ro­man­tic drama (gaz­ing at the light­house, walks by the beach, lovely in­te­ri­ors) then blows them to smithereens. Un­hap­pily, her as­tute, am­bigu­ous script is un­done by the de­tails.

Luc Mont­pel­lier’s cam­era bathes ev­ery scene with an eerie, mid­day haze, but even this flour­ish can’t dis­guise the un­re­al­ity of the prin­ci­pal’s en­tropic world. Their swish, bo­hemian Toronto life­styles are at odds with the street-smart ma­te­rial. The postal code of­fers a riot of Cool Canada snap­shots, but the plush sur­round­ings make Friends look like Ser­pico.

An oth­er­wise wound­ing clos­ing mon­tage set to Leonard Co­hen’s ti­tle song leaves you think­ing: how on earth can they af­ford all this fur­ni­ture?

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