I loved Drake Doremus’ Like Crazy, which managed the rare feat of making a love story feel fresh, real, new and passionate. I had high hope for Breathe In, but unfortunately while there are some things to admire, the overall feeling is that the film is slightly tedious and contrived.
Sophie (Felicity Jones) is a foreign exchange student who arrives in upstate New York to stay with Keith (Guy Pearce), his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). Keith and Sophie share a love of music, and slowly their musical connection develop into feelings for one another, but neither is sure whether they should act upon them.
Breathe In is one of those movies where not a lot happens. Instead it slowly introduces you to the characters so that when something does occur, you’re involved with the people and believe in what’s going on. As with Like Crazy, it goes for a naturalistic style, with plenty of halting, vaguely improvised conversations and people doing small things that don’t really appear to be that vital to the plot but give you a better understanding of them as people.
However it takes things so slowly that it really began to test my patience. Breathe In is also fairly mannered, so that things often slip from feeling real to feeling constructed. Long shots of Guy Pearce looking wistfully into the middle-distance begin to scream ‘here is where the audience consider Keith’s feelings about his lost youth etc.’. By the time it goes for a few minutes of high drama at the end – which should be the payoff to the slow and sustained build up – it all feels rather contrived and overwrought.
It’s often difficult to make a movie that feels ‘real’. Film is inherently unreal, so if you try to get around that you’re always flirting on the edge between genuinely feeling authentic and simply highlighting how far from reality it actually is. Unfortunately the latter is where Breathe In ends up. After a while most scenes seem affected and distractingly manufactured. It’s also true that no matter how naturalistic it tries to be, the plot and characters have been seen many times before and it has little new to say about them. Indeed underneath the deliberate pace and tone, Breathe In is all a little clichéd.
On the plus side, the performances are excellent. There are moments where Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce make you forget that you’re watching something overthought, as they seem to truly inhabit their characters and believe in what they’re doing. A lot of the time the film should have just let them be, as every few minutes you can feel Doremus’ directorial hand coming along to poke them, pulling you away from what could have been a more absorbing character study.
Where Doremus and his cinematographer certainly outdo themselves is with the visual style. ‘Painting with light’ is an overused and slightly meaningless phrase, but there’s a sense of that with Breathe In. The film uses light in a smart clever way, where the visuals actually works to help develop the characters rather than simply be used to let us see them. It’s a beautiful looking movie and that certainly comes through on the Blu-ray.
Other than a trailer the only special feature is an interview with Drake Doremus and Felicity Jones. It’s an interesting look at the movie, with the duo discussing the mix of improvisation and classical style (another overused and slightly meaningless phrase) they used, as well as the differences between how they made this film and Like Crazy – indeed you can understand from what they say why this movie doesn’t work quite as well.
Overall Verdict: Great acting and beautiful visuals can’t overcome the fact that the movie’s attempted naturalism ends up highlighting how contrived it actually is and how everything’s a little clichéd.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac