Words: Rob DeStefano

Breathe In

The film Like Crazy received the spotlight treatment at HIFF in 2011. It is a movie I still think about from time to time, but as much as I am affected by the subject matter – people unwilling to let go of something that might have already let go itself – I do question the packaging. Writer/director Drake Doremus is a proponent of extended improvisation, and I think this let in too much air. Without a concrete backbone, the film’s strong performances and inherently melancholic topic did not build to the work it could have.

Doremus returns to the festival this year, bringing along star Amy Ryan to promote his follow-up feature Breathe In. Now upping the age of his subjects, well sort of, Doremus revisits the romantic-drama territory. Keith (Guy Pearce) and Megan (Amy Ryan) live the suburban life, enjoying bayside barbeques and annual family photoshoots with their 17-year-old daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). This picturesque world is eroded when they take in Sophie (Felicity Jones), a foreign exchange student who connects most strongly with Keith; the two are both musicians, but Sophie has what Keith is longing for, youth and spontaneity. Working with another talented cast and themes as understandable as (potential) infidelity and regret, does Doremus produce something with more weight than his 2011 submission? My answer for this year’s entry is, again, “No.”

Like the outline Doremus uses for his scripts, the character of Sophie feels like little more than a sketch, which makes it difficult to sympathize with her as she acts in ways that make an old grandmother purse her lips and mutter, “tsk tsk!” Through a brief conversation we gather that she was raised by her uncle who has recently passed away, leaving a fresh void for a father figure. Sophie rambles about wanting to choose what she wants to do with her life and not just do something because she can; this mantra that she hammers Keith with makes little sense and further exposes her as a hollow girl. The artificiality of her being is also emphasized when Doremus throws Jane Austen books in her suitcase, since that characterization is as effective as seeing a stranger purchase Pride and Prejudice at a dying Borders Books. Sophie, as far as we can assume, is not a malicious person, yet without the depth she needs as the story’s catalyst, her scenes with Pearce’s character feel contrived and sadly abrasive; the far too coincidental event that triggers the final act is laughable, and it’s at this time we accept that we’re never going to care about the central relationship. The film would have been more engaging and honest if the family decided against accepting a British student.

The stylistic choices on display are also far from infallible. Doremus favors these jump cuts, in the same vein as Breathless, but they prove to be highly inefficient and even detrimental to the tension of a scene. For a movie titled Breathe In, his camera and editing preferences deny the cast this room to breathe and deliver earnest performances when they are required. He’s working with a crazy amount of talent, why does he feel this impetus to disturb?

Without spoiling, the film ends with an image of a scar. I give Doremus some credit here, as it is a great summation. This aside, and his knack for working with an excellent casting director, he has yet to impress. Breathe In is not a particularly good film, but I’ll stick in there, even as my patience grows thin, and hope that his next project is an improvement.

Grade: C

Director: Drake Doremus
Written by: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones
Cast: Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis, Matthew Daddario, Kyle MacLachlan
Production Co: Indian Paintbrush, Super Crispy Entertainment

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