Breathe In - DVD Review

'far too regularly Breathe In feels like a collection of ideas cherry-picked from umpteen other indie movies and unsubtly stitched together'

Very near the start of Breathe In, there is a short sequence showing Keith (Guy Pearce) playing Jenga with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). We see Megan and Lauren draw blocks from the tower, leaving it still standing, before Keith selects a block which sends the now precariously balanced construction toppling to the table. At the time of watching, I wondered if director Drake Doremus had just shown me a remarkably blunt metaphor to signpost what was to essentially happen during the remainder of his film, whilst also hoping I was wrong. It didn’t take the whole ninety-odd minute running time for me to realise that, unfortunately, I had been right on the money.

This amply demonstrates the key problems with Doremus’ film: far too regularly Breathe In feels like a collection of ideas cherry-picked from umpteen other indie movies and unsubtly stitched together. The film is in essence the story of Keith’s mid-life crisis. Having spent the last eighteen years working as a music teacher, instead of being a “real” musician like he was before Lauren was born, Keith harbours his old passions which he’s occasionally allowed to set free by playing with the New York Philharmonic. His wife doesn’t understand him, and his daughter isn’t musical. Poor Keith. If only there were an outside influence to trigger his mid-life crisis and turn the lives of Keith and his family upside down. Oh wait, that would be exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones), who has her own daddy issues to stir into the mix.

If the various elements sound really quite familiar, that’s because they are. It’s almost as if Doremus has challenged himself to fit as many indie tropes into his film as he can; something he regularly does, occasionally applying them with a shovel. The whole film is awash with pregnant silences, awkward longing stares and symbolic quirky settings for liaisons (loaded glances traded over the swings at the end of the garden, anyone?) And yet, in amongst the predictable elements of Breathe In, Doremus manages to craft a meaningful message about the fakery which at times goes with relationships deemed conventional or acceptable in society. The lone sequence involving Keith and Megan visiting “friends” Peter (Kyle MacLachlan) and Wendy (Alexandra Wentworth) is a particular highlight showing the cinematic highs that Doremus is occasionally capable of.

What really makes Breathe In work throughout is the lead pair of Pearce and Jones. The chemistry between the two is palpable, with some seriously excruciating awkward moments effortlessly crafted. Pearce is pleasingly understated and perfectly cast, and whilst Jones’ character occasionally feels slightly more fanciful her performance is consistently strong. Ryan and Davis provide some solid support despite their parts feeling thinly written, especially in comparison to the central duo.

Doremus’ film will certainly hold your interest, feeling tight enough to warrant granting this a watch. But throughout Breathe In you’ll find yourself again and again wishing the director had created a film that, even if it never threatened to break the mould, didn’t so comfortably fit itself into one so well-worn.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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