"I'm afraid of connections," says Margot (Michelle Williams) as she sits in an airplane seat on a flight home to Toronto. It's the kind of literary, metaphorical dialogue that simultaneously tells you everything about her and the plot of the movie, the kind of script over-write that tries to pretend it's something other than what it is, and almost gets away with it thanks to Williams' tentative, unsure delivery, like a pop quiz answer she's not sure about just yet. And it comes early in the film, too, offered to a man Williams just met, warning you that there'll probably be very little heavy lifting required from that moment forward. The new guy is named Daniel (Luke Kirby), an artist who's also a rickshaw driver and -- no, really, a rickshaw driver. In Toronto. And... I know, I know... look, it's symbolic. Eventually he'll want to take her away from her husband (Seth Rogen, dialed way, way down here). In a rickshaw.
Later, in the company of that husband of five years, a news report about a minor Canadian earthquake signals what's to come for the couple, but you knew that already by the way they have the nerve to watch TV together or eat dinner in what many married people would consider companionable silence.
Backing up: this is the second feature from actor/director Sarah Polley, whose debut was the wise, devastatingly sad, Julie Christie-gets-Alzheimer's drama Away from Her. She knocked it out of the park on her first try. So it's more than disappointing to experience a follow-up so insistent on bludgeoning subtlety to death, offering obvious verbal and visual explanations for every single character's actions. Worse, even with cluttered directorial cues that force you to "get it," you still can't write it off completely; there's too much that's good otherwise.
For starters, Polley takes her time, allowing her characters the luxury of dissolving their lives and relationships at a pace more resembling that of real life. She also refuses to pass judgment. Williams' perpetually restless wife may make some head-scratching mistakes as she tries to find romantic bliss, and her alcoholic sister-in-law (Sarah Silverman, with all the best lines) may act as audience stand-in when she dresses down Williams for those mistakes, but Polley is more interested in exploring the subjective nature of married happiness, how one person's comfortable, caring rut is another's cuddles-and-baby-talk prison.
Polley also loves her actors. She allows Williams the room to become an unsympathetic do-nothing, Silverman the chance to flex her drama muscles and Rogen, of all people, the space to turn himself inside out. Almost all of his comedy tics are locked down tightly and he gets the film's most graceful, heartbreaking, just-got-dumped moment. Yes, that Seth Rogen.
The question is do you want to experience two full hours of young marriage with the batteries dying, where a lot is obliquely shown and told but where a single, direct, real-talk conversation between any of the characters would eliminate the need for a film altogether, where you feel goaded into yelling relationship advice at the screen? If you do then prepare for an exercise in frustration, because that might just be the point.