SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2013
By Don Simpson | January 25, 2013
Director: Drake Doremus
Writers: Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones
Starring: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Mackenzie Davis, Amy Ryan, Kyle MacLachlan, Brendan Dooling, Alexandra Wentworth, Lucy Davenport, Ben Shenkman, Hugo Becker, Nicole Patrick, Elise Eberle, Matthew Daddario
The characters in Drake Doremus’ Breathe In need to learn how to exhale every once in a while. Everyone internalizes their feelings, allowing their pains and frustrations to fester inside their soul rather than releasing that tension every now and again.
Keith (Guy Pearce) is a high school music teacher who moonlights as a substitute cellist for the Manhattan Philharmonic. He does not want to be a teacher and he does not want to live in the suburbs, but he is stuck doing both. He would rather have a full-time chair in the Manhattan Philharmonic and reside in the city, but his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) does not want to relocate back to the city. Megan is content in their large house in suburbia and does not want to increase their cost of living for Keith’s convenience. Besides, their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) is still in high school, so Megan does not want to uproot her.
Enter Sophie (Felicity Jones), an 18-year old English exchange student who has come to live with Megan and Keith while attending her final semester in high school. Besides being played by an actress who was 27-years old at the time Breathe In was being shot, Sophie is matured and cultured beyond her years. She reads great literature and is an accomplished pianist. Oh yeah, and she is quite beautiful.
Of course Keith takes a liking to Sophie, especially after he hears her play a difficult Chopin piece and the feeling is mutual since Keith is the only sophisticated person around who shares Sophie’s interests. They also share a kinship in being incredibly talented musicians who crave to experience life in Manhattan; most of all they want to be free from people who tell them what they need to do and who they need to be. Sophie and Keith are stuck and they perceive each other to be the best way to become dislodged.
We all see exactly where this story is going, right? This is because, in many ways, Breathe In abides by the standard narrative tropes of the “married-older-man-who-falls-in-love-with-a-much-younger-woman” genre. What Breathe In does differently is that it provides the characters with enough backstory and purpose to make the on screen events seem realistic. The writing and delivery of the dialogue also adds to the film’s high level of naturalism. Above all, Breathe In treats love and relationships quite honestly. We all know that there is no such thing as a happy ending (especially when it comes to love) in real life; and even though the ending is triggered by the most heavy-handed plot device of the entire film, Doremus nails the conclusion as naturally as possible.
Doremus also sprinkles a hefty dash of metaphors on top of the narrative; for example, the cookie jars (beauty on the outside, empty on the inside) and Sophie’s black clothing (evil) vs. Lauren’s white clothing (innocence). As the title suggests, the sound and rhythm of breathing plays a significant role in the narrative, cleverly serving as a window to the characters’ levels of tension and anxiety.
Breathe In is a very smart film with impressive performances all around. I just hope that Doremus is not stuck in a creative rut, only making films featuring Felicity Jones as a foreign exchange student. The casting of Jones as an 18-year-old was Doremus’ biggest misstep in a film that strives for such a high level of realism. Sure, Jones does an admirable job, but I still find it quite distracting to watch her portray a character who is ten years her junior.