Breathe In

Breathe In

****

Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Breathe In, the opening film of this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival, is a quietly tragic film which excels in teasing out the innermost insecurities of its characters, yet allows each of them to remain sympathetic despite their desperation.

Keith (Guy Pierce) lives a harmlessly unfulfilled life as a high-school music teacher, married to Megan (Amy Ryan) and father to star high-school swimmer Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). Keith’s negated musical ambitions are reawakened when a prodigious English exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) comes to live with them.

Copy picture

If that sounds familiar and cliché ridden, that’s because, well, it is, and in the hands of lesser actors with a less nuanced script, the film may have quickly descended in to a by-the-numbers male mid-life crisis story. Instead director Drake Doremus handles the material superbly, aware of its pitfalls and sensitive to all the vagaries of human behaviour which make these characters so intriguing.

Early on in the proceedings, Sophie name-checks one of the great chroniclers of the quiet unhappiness of middle-aged suburban America, Raymond Carver, which gives an indication of the sort of dissatisfaction we’re going to encounter. While the material may sound similar, Breathe In is worlds away from the self-deprecating irony of something like American Beauty.

The seeming inevitability of Keith and Sophie’s relationship provides a tense through-line to what is otherwise an episodic family melodrama propelled by truly impressive performances. Guy Pierce and Felicity Jones both excel at that far-away-glance, that loneliness in a crowd which seems to define the emptiness within them.

Too often in these stories the wife is left to appear as a controlling shrew, inhibiting the freedom of our tortured male protagonists. However, Amy Ryan, despite seemingly having the smallest role - not troubled by internal dramas like the rest of the family - is also the most likeable and selfless, trying to make the most of family life with a quiet dignity alien to the rest of the cast.

While Keith and Sophie are grappling with a desire for an illusory sense of freedom, Keith’s daughter Lauren, unbeknownst to him of course, struggles to cope with the high school jock’s casual dismissal of what she’d thought was a blossoming relationship.

We see Lauren, Sophie and Keith all on the family’s swing seat at various points throughout the film, the characters rocking back and forward in perpetual motion without actually getting anywhere. And in these moments, this rocking between difficult decisions and corrupting compromises – so well captured incidentally by cinematographer John Guleserian – the film’s eventual success lies.

Reviewed on: 18 Jun 2013
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The arrival of an exchange student reawakens a middle aged man's musical ambitions.
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