In the young actress-turned-director Sarah Polley’s debut film Away from Her she gave the impression of being beyond her years. In her follow up she achieves the opposite. Following the template of the now passé “anti-romance,” Polley explores what it is like to feel unhappy within a perfect marriage, only she doesn’t really explore it as much as float around it.
Michelle Williams as Margot realises that her perfectly adequate, but never exciting, relationship with her perfectly adequate, but never exciting husband Lou (Seth Rogan,) is not quite doing enough for her, and explores this dissatisfaction through a wandering affair with happenstance neighbour Daniel (Luke Kirkby,) who presents himself as a figure representative of everything that Lou is not, making him an appealing prospect for the pensive, restless Williams character. Daniel, the artist/rickshaw driver (???) of her dreams, is always earnest, always meaningful and always aloof and exciting, whereas Rogan's persona is expressed almost entirely through his occupation as a chicken chef. This gag, him being so bland that he is a chef who only cooks chicken, is basically the only thing Polley presents the audience as to explain why Williams is unhappy, that and the fact that he is usually too busy cooking chicken to have sex with her. She makes a few attempts to woo him whilst he’s cooking, he is unresponsive, and she feels dejected. As a human in a story, this is fine, Margot is allowed to feel like this, knowing that something is not right without knowing why, but as a director of a visual medium, Polley has to offer the audience more.
Annoyingly, Polley is clearly on to something with this idea of implacable dissatisfaction and restless ennui, and tackling a more ambitious subject for her second film would be praiseworthy, if the film could be seen to engage with the idea at all. As Polley’s film plays out, it appears things might actually be going somewhere. Daniel and Margot have sporadic, unconsummated romantic episodes and engage in their unrealistic exchanges in front of twilight lit lighthouses, and Margot continues to question the source of her "momentary melancholia." Occasionally, the film nears entering thoughtful territory, and then Daniel will say something like “Is that a should-vi-tation or an invititation?” and the film is back to that ever increasingly realm of ‘recent indie romantic comedies which feature annoying witty and transparent characters who talk about lots of things in ways that no human ever has or ever will.’
Their affair culminates in a gimmicky bravado rotating camera scene with two different threesomes on a studio apartment floor mattress, which Margot also quickly becomes bored of. Sarah Silverman shows up a few times as a likable but unreliable alcoholic, and then she crashes into some bins after having gone to buy some baby chickens, and Margot and Lou are brought back together so they and the audience can contemplate the futility of all human relationships.
Polley’s film is never terrible, but it is never remotely close to exploring the promise its central theme suggests. Seth Rogan proves again after 50/50 that he can be a more than competent serious actor when dealing with unchallenging material, and Williams too is serviceable as a indie-Zooey Deschanel-esque manic-pixie-dream-girl. Polley’s film presents itself as something more, but ultimately offers little to make her film more interesting than any of its contemporary companions that it emulates, which at least usually have the advantage of being amusing and entertaining, if similarly vacuous.