Release: Friday, March 28, 2014 (limited)
Watching a film like the claustrophobically personal yet largely insignificant Breathe In is the same experience I get going into art museums and being told a painting of a horse is worth $3 million. I can appreciate the view, but what is there to understand? It’s a picture of a horse. This movie is a situational farce that should have been avoided. Pretty plain and simple. And though that sounds critical of the film’s quality, it’s more a comment on the underwhelming simplicity of the story. It’s not necessarily bad that it exists, but it’s a picture of a damn horse and I want my entrance fee into the museum refunded because I’m feeling kind of ripped off.
For what it’s worth, the film’s stars are not only well-matched, they bring much light (and life) to what would be considered an anorexic drama piece without them. Guy Pearce is Keith Reynolds, a man who, as he settles into middle age in a small community in upstate-New York, is unhappy with the way his life has turned out. He doesn’t find much satisfaction in his job and his home life feels less rewarding than it should with the familiarity of his wife (the ever-reliable Amy Ryan) and an inability to connect with his only daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who is athletic and chooses to swim, rather than learn any musical instrument as he prefers she would.
Everything is as cool as a cucumber in the Reynolds’ household up until they go to pick up 18-year-old Sophie (Felicity Jones), a British foreign exchange student whom they’ve agreed to host for the semester. Lauren shares her room with her, and despite the open hospitality from her and particularly Mrs. Reynolds its clear that Sophie doesn’t seem excited to be where she is. Her original vision of traveling to the States had her staying in a high-rise apartment in the city, or at the very least being a little bit closer to the outskirts. One can cut the tension with a knife the moment Sophie steps foot inside their home.
It’s a tension that continues to grow stronger as her reluctance to engage many of the people around her paints her as stand-offish and antisocial. Refusing to show up to the class Keith teaches at school, Sophie claims she doesn’t have interest in concert piano. Keith would like her very much to at least attend class the next day, despite Sophie’s insistence that the principal will have her name off the roster by that very evening and that she should have no such obligation to attend a class she isn’t enrolled in. She also turns down invitations to hang out with Lauren initially. One is left questioning what exactly she is doing in America at all, given how she is introduced.
However, she slowly begins to come out of her shell when she takes an interest in this quiet and mysterious Mr. Reynolds, who never seems to her to be truly at peace with his position in life. Though an exact time frame is never really clear, one thing that is clear after awhile is that Sophie and Keith are beginning to feel the tug of a mutual attraction, one that poses a significant threat to the harmony in the house. . .and within Keith’s family. Even though the turn of events make us uncomfortable, nothing happens that isn’t slightly predictable. Foreshadowing, particularly with the film’s intrusive score, is a technique the director perhaps relies on too much here.
Meanwhile, character development’s an asset that Drake Doremus can pride his newest film for really valuing. Boosted by solid performances from both Pearce and Jones, this suggestive little indie film features characters that are complex and so very human, even though they are ultimately hard to comprehend, much less empathize with. But whether or not the cast is playing a likable bunch of characters isn’t the issue that causes Breathe In to choke. It’s the actions thereof that do. Actions that are hardly defensible; in fact, they almost defy logic given the context of the story. If there is in fact a take-away from this most emotionally underwhelming of cinematic experiences, it’s that one should lose faith in the foreign exchange program. It seems to be a pretty good free-for-all in terms of who you might get if you choose to host someone in your home for a few months. You could get a partier, you could get a book-worm. You could even get a home-wrecker. But don’t tell that to the Reynolds, wherever you may find them now.
While not completely offensive to watch, Breathe In is a pretty pointless film.
Recommendation: Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones fans, here’s one where they are both in a film together. For anyone else, there are other movies. Avoid this one if you can help it, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing you accidentally rented either.
Running Time: 98 mins.
Quoted: “One day you’ll be free.”
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