Sundance '13: 'Breathe In' Has Powerful Performances & Grand Score
by Ethan Anderton
January 28, 2013
After the breakthrough Sundance selected film Like Crazy (one of my favorites of 2011) presented a familiar but authentic and emotional approach to the idea of long distance relationships, there was much anticipation for director Drake Doremus' most recent festival entry, Breathe In. Much in the same vein as Like Crazy, the film starring Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones has a story we've seen before, especially at Sundance. A young girl enters the life of a happy family and shakes their foundation by striking up a romance with the patriarch. But what separates this film from last year's similar story Nobody Walks is significantly better writing, emotionally charged performances, and a grand, majestic score to drive it home.
At the start of Breathe In, the Reynolds family is all smiles as Keith (Peace), Megan (Amy Ryan) and teenage daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) are posing for various family photos outside their gorgeous house. It's essentially too perfect. Enter British foreign exchange student Sophie who's coming to stay for a whole semester. She's not thrilled with being so far outside of New York City, but despite her hesitancy to enjoy the upscale area near the coast, there's something about Keith that she's drawn to, and slowly but surely tension builds that you can cut with a knife. There's a lot of set up that doesn't go to places as obvious as one might see in a studio romance like this, and that adds to the suspense. I could feel the discomfort among the audience.
Director Drake Doremus invests as much time in the empty space and silence between our characters as he does with their interaction. Anytime Sophie and Keith are speaking with each other, the quiet between them almost speaks volumes more than their flirty words do. The longing looks and body language by both Pearce and Jones is just as integral as the moments when they're getting to know each other. It also helps that a beautiful predominantly piano score from Dustin O'Halloran (who did the score for Like Crazy), makes every moment feel extravagant and almost haunting.
But as with Like Crazy, what makes this film more engaging than, any other film of this kind is the performances. Pearce, Ryan and Davis make you feel like they're a family. It's not necessarily easy to relate to them, but each of their performances made me care. In addition, Jones does a phenomenal job of putting on the fence of liking or disliking her character. She's not flat out manipulative, but careless. She's irresponsible with her decisions, but not necessarily aware of the repercussions as she's caught up in a schoolgirl crush. The same can be said for Pearce as he see's the greener grass of being with this younger girl who has her whole life ahead of her, and makes him think that his best years aren't behind him. It's these performances that make Breathe In a worthwhile watch film of emotion and authentic skepticism of what we come to understand as happiness as we get older.
Breathe In isn't the most original film to hit Sundance, but it's one of the most well-acted and scored films without a doubt. It's subtle in ways you might not expect from the story and has moments that will make you cringe in discomfort. It's a fierce look at the decisions we make to stay young and try to be happy when we're feeling vulnerable. Doremus has captured an intimate portrait of mid-life crisis and fanciful young love in one small story, even if the ending is conventional and on the weaker side. Breathe In is overwrought with tension and romance, and puts a slightly different spin on a familiar story that is elevated by the cast and some quality direction.
Ethan's Sundance Rating: 7 out of 10