Breathe In Review

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Breathe In (2013)

Cast: Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Mackenzie Davis
Director: Drake Doremus
Country: USA
Genre: Drama | Romance
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Note: Breathe In is now open in limited release

“What’s Up With the Reynolds” is the header borne by the summer’s-end update sent out to friends by the titular family of three in one of Breathe In’s earliest scenes. As breezily overseen by Mom, it’s the kind of tacky suburban conceit to which the movie stands in opposition, a frail façade of contentment the narrative’s low-key love affair doesn’t so much serve to ruin as to reveal. But as much as this new movie from Like Crazy director Drake Doremus might align itself with the orchestral artistry of Dad’s musical dreams, it’s no less kitsch in its concessions toward domestic drama than the shelves of ornamental cookie jars Mom keeps to hand.

Here is a film so po-faced it pains the cheeks to not chuckle at its self-seriousness, so drearily dismal in its evocation of this household’s stilted mood that it earns all the emotional nuance of soap opera.

breathe_in_2013_3That’s convenient for her when she feels the need to vent; it’s presumably not played for laughs when Doremus has her hurl them across the room to the tune of her husband’s classical cello, but it works wonders nonetheless. Here is a film so po-faced it pains the cheeks to not chuckle at its self-seriousness, so drearily dismal in its evocation of this household’s stilted mood that it earns all the emotional nuance of soap opera. “Why are the lights out?” begs Mom, bemused, after almost catching her husband in the embrace of their English exchange student, a question that might easily be asked Doremus and DP John Guleserian at any and all points of the film. An effective evocation of domestic dissatisfaction their aesthetic might make; a convincing depiction of suburban electricity use it certainly does not.

That’s perhaps the defining issue of Breathe In, a movie that desperately strives for naturalism in the most unnaturalistic way. Doremus’ approach is well-documented: with Like Crazy co-writer Ben York Jones he sketched a story outline and invited his cast to improvise the precise words under the auspices of his hovering handheld camera. But where the style reaped rich rewards in the former film, that perhaps had the benefit of separating its seemingly star-cross’d lovers; kept together as they are here, their fate seems far less fetching for us as observers, the approach awkwardly asking of the actors more than they’re given themselves, leaving them to inhabit characters only half-conceived.

But if it’s kindred spirits these characters should seem, it’s more creepy mismatch they emerge. Never does the script constitute their relationship as the profound romance the lugubrious score might like us to think; rather, we’re left with a confused child caught up in a queasy mid-life crisis.

breathe_in_2013_2“Get in the car, start driving, see where it took us,” is a line from the movie that describes the approach well; if too many cooks spoil the broth, Doremus and co. have crashed the car. If so it’s no fault of the cast: Felicity Jones is again enrapturing, after her terrific work in Like Crazy, as the teen at the heart of it all, understandably alluring to a family man who settled unwittingly. But if it’s kindred spirits these characters should seem, it’s more creepy mismatch they emerge. Never does the script constitute their relationship as the profound romance the lugubrious score might like us to think; rather, we’re left with a confused child caught up in a queasy mid-life crisis.

That the film never seems to even notice its darker implications is, at best, indicative of its underwriting; that she’s played by the sublime Amy Ryan only deepens the suspect scripting that makes of Mom such a suffocating suburbanite ball and chain. No amount of orchestra-scored montages can forgive Doremus the feebleness—even the crudeness—of his characterisation, nor the warped worldview that allows him to imagine this as a love story. If the blindness of youth excused the excesses of Like Crazy’s occasionally overbearing approach, Breathe In has no such claim to concession. This is a film that imagines itself to have the grace of a gifted musician, but that’s about as on-target as frailly-flung porcelain.

[notification type=”star”]46/100 ~ BAD. No amount of orchestra-scored montages can forgive Doremus the feebleness—even the crudeness—of his characterisation, nor the warped worldview that allows him to imagine Breathe In as a love story.[/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.