Film review: Breathe In (15)


Love lessons in a strictly minor key

The promise of youth meets the onset of middle-age in Drake Doremus's elegantly composed and emotionally reticent drama Breathe In. Writer-director Doremus scored an indie hit at Sundance with his last film, the transatlantic romance Like Crazy (2011), which showcased his knack for intimate, personal storytelling and a heightened sensitivity to mood. I wonder if this was why UK audiences never got to see the one he made before that, Douchebag. That doesn't sound like it had much sensitivity to anything.

Breathe In begins literally, and perhaps ominously, with the portrait of a happy family. In a garden somewhere in upstate New York (or Massachusetts?) the Reynolds family are all smiles to the camera for one of those annual cards that Americans send one another to brag about their recent achievements. Keith (Guy Pearce) is a high-school music teacher in his late forties with a salt-and- pepper beard to remind us of his days as a wannabe rock star. He misses "the city", unlike his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), who's content with their rangy 18-year-old daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) and the vintage cookie jars she's been collecting over the years. Keith's dissatisfaction is quiet but insistent; he has been subbing as a cellist with a prestigious New York orchestra, and he prickles when his wife (with unknowing condescension) refers to it as his "hobby". You can see the thwartedness in his eyes.

With transition in the air, this might not be the best time for a foreign exchange student to arrive, upsetting the Reynolds' fragile ecology. This student would be Sophie, a pianist from Berkshire who'll attend the high school with Lauren for a term. She is played by Felicity Jones, who starred for Doremus in Like Crazy and whose dark-eyed, open-faced prettiness belies her years. She's 29, but can pass for 18, as she does here. Mother and daughter take on the early duty of bonding with the newcomer while Keith broods and has a sneaky look through her suitcase – he's a bit of a pill, in truth.

His gradual thawing with Sophie is nicely worked. At first, he's surprised that she doesn't practise; she explains that she only wants to play when she "chooses". When in front of the class he challenges her to play something as a way of introducing herself, she sits with great reluctance at the piano. She opens with Chopin, played pianissimo to begin, then suddenly bursting into a virtuoso display of speed and technique: Keith actually flinches at the abrupt change. Later, when he's fretting about his audition for a permanent chair in the orchestra, she kindly talks him through a breathing exercise to calm his nerves. Little glances of sympathy flicker back and forth, silences become pregnant with implication, and Sophie's presence begins to stir an uneasiness in the house. This cuckoo in the nest sings a rather beguiling song.

The blame isn't entirely hers. When Lauren's ex-boyfriend (Matthew Daddario) invites her for a night on the town, Sophie assumes it's an outing en masse; little does she know the boy has arranged the evening just for the two of them, or that his opportunist lunge will spread gossip down the school corridor like marsh gas. And it is possibly not her conscious intention to pluck the heartstrings of Keith, whose dormant ambition is inflamed by this chance proximity to youth and its fearlessness. He yearns for the old days of being "creative, spontaneous, inspired", though a closer reading of his wife's expression might have warned him that she's twigged what's really driving his restlessness.

Spontaneity, indeed, is very much the element Doremus is looking for from his actors. Pearce, who's tremendous here, has admitted that the improv method was largely unfamiliar to him. Whereas most directors get an actor to say the line inside the first 10 seconds, "Drake would roll the camera for 20 minutes and would go back and do another take if it didn't feel truthful." This painstaking approach to "the truth" is talked about with reverence by its practitioners, though I'm not sure how much of it is perceptible up on screen. There is some very fine naturalistic acting in Breathe In; late on, Megan enters the house and instead of bawling out Sophie she fixes her with a look that refreshes the word "withering". It would take the recipient a while to recover from that look.

But however impressive the craftsmanship, Breathe In feels, as Like Crazy did, rather famished as a drama. There just isn't enough incident to go round. While you admire the restraint between the smitten pair, and the fact that they don't just jump on one another, the film needs more juice to keep the tension going. There's also a very feeble contrivance whereby a lakeside tryst is rumbled by the one person who must not be allowed to find out. Doremus is slightly in love with his own tremulous good taste. What in a generous mood you might call "sensitive" can, after prolonged exposure, feel more like "drippy". The one major explosion of rage here involves someone smashing cookie jars against a hardwood floor. Try as I might, I couldn't really summon a sharp intake of breath at that.



Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.


Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss