Film review: Breathe In - If you want to make beautiful music together, timing is everything


Nicholas Barber
Saturday 20 July 2013 19:53
Piano man: Guy Pearce is a married music teacher attracted to a young student in Breathe In
Piano man: Guy Pearce is a married music teacher attracted to a young student in Breathe In

Guy Pearce was last seen in Iron Man 3, and Felicity Jones is set to co-star in the next Spider-Man film, so Breathe In is a welcome opportunity to remind ourselves of how sensitive they both are when playing ordinary, un-superpowered beings. It's written and directed by Drake Doremus, who collaborated with Jones on last year's Like Crazy, a heart-bruising, semi-improvised comic-drama which took a standard romcom plot – two twentysomething lovers stuck on different continents – and imagined how it might unfold in reality. In Breathe In, he pulls off the same trick with another well-worn predicament, the attraction between a married man and a girl young enough to be his daughter. It's a predicament that can be especially problematic if you're not Michael Douglas or Woody Allen.

Jones, playing a decade younger than her actual age, is an 18-year-old British exchange student who comes to stay with a family in a leafy New York suburb. Her host, Pearce, is a high-school music teacher who still dreams of making it as a rock bassist or a concert cellist. When he watches Jones conquer a finger-knottingly difficult piano solo, it's worth the ticket price just to see the dozen different emotions which radiate from his almost static face.

Surprisingly, lust isn't one of them. An unironic, melancholic romance, Breathe In is generous enough to treat its protagonists as vulnerable individuals who believe they may be soulmates, rather than as a Lolita and a Humbert Humbert. It's just a shame about the melodramatic ending, which is preceded by so much ominous music and general moodiness that we all but see the storm clouds rolling in. The rich, sympathetic characters we've got to know deserve a less simplistic final act.

Having been Oscar-nominated for Leaving Las Vegas, Mike Figgis turned his back on mainstream cinema to concentrate on experimental, low-budget video film- making (Time Code, Hotel). But if Suspension of Disbelief (11 mins, 15 *) is what he gets up to when left to his own devices, someone should give him $100m and force him to make the next Transformers sequel.

As in Leaving Las Vegas, the main character is a screenwriter (Sebastian Koch from The Lives of Others). But in this instance that's an excuse for endless, tedious Postmodernism. Half of the scenes turn out to be films-within-films or even films- within-films-within-films, and the other half feature Koch either hosting a creative-writing seminar or typing a script which describes the action we're watching. Unfortunately, Figgis seems so fixated on being meta that he hasn't noticed the flat acting or the patience-trying pacing of his film-noir plot. Suspending your disbelief is out of the question.

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