Sunday, 13 April 2014

Breathe In (2013) - Film Review

breathe in, film review, felicity jones, guy pearceStarring: Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce

Synopsis: When the poised and reserved English exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) moves in with her American hosts, the Reynolds family, for a term abroad, she finds herself warily drawn to  rakish patriarch Keith. A music teacher and occasional cellist for the Manhattan Symphony Orchestra, Keith silently pines for his former days of creative and musical glory.
The pair maintain a mutual distance from one another that's both reticent and cautious - until Sophie reveals herself as a musical virtuoso - a brilliant pianist who calls to Keith in a way his present life can't.
Breathe In has a languid fragility to it, atmospheric for the use of natural mood lighting and devoid of over-dramatisation. Much like Drake Doremus's previous Sundance offering Like Crazy (also starring Jones), the film is intimate, with authentic performances from the cast who rely on improvisation than any solid script. Whereas the conversations are not always so free flowing, even stilted at times, it lends a dramatic 'realness' to the story that's refreshing in comparison to more eloquent cinematic dialogue.

felicity jones, breathe in film, film reviewFelicity Jones' character is very reminiscent of that which she played in Like Crazy (I didn't actually know both films were from the same director till after watching Breathe In, having seen Like Crazy the previous year!), with Sophie carrying an air of aloofness that's both endearing to the character of Keith and the audience. I wouldn't say there's much to differentiate Jones' performances in both films but it's clear that Doremus is monopolising on her talents for understated drama.

One of the opening scenes plays with foreshadowing, depicting the close knit Reynolds in their quaint, rustic home playing a game of Jenga, hinting at the collapse of the family - strong at first but with weak foundations. Perhaps an obvious motif, but one that certainly sets up the story in one clear image. In fact with the film centered around music, it's only fitting that the story seems to follow the trajectory of a typical classical piece. Starting languidly, once the pull between Sophie and Keith begins to grow stronger and it's apparent there is a spark between them, the drama heightens and builds to its climatic crescendo.

For the characters, everything is pushed underneath. Keith lives out pockets of former glory as his time subbing for the symphony orchestra in between what his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) regards as his 'real' vocation - teaching. Derivatively referring to his passion as a 'hobby', a sense of inertia is at play within the family. Content with stability, it's ironic that Megan is the one to bring Sophie into their home - the quiet storm that soon creates tension between all family members.

guy pearce, breathe in film, film review
The burgeoning relationship between Keith and Sophie is less passionately charged than the usual films of this ilk. The tension is there but less palpable and heightened than it could lend itself to be. Likewise, the character of Sophie is watered down - an enigma, but a pale version - she's almost hapless in a very unfortunate way. Lending herself unintentionally to teenage gossip, we see a vulnerable side to her. Comparing this with scenes where she is more in control - i.e. playing the piano defiantly or else reveling in the hold she has on Keith - it's difficult to say what Breathe In intends for her to be. Obviously an outsider, preferring to read Jane Austen at pool parties than mingle with her peers, Sophie is the quintessential 'complicated' female protagonist - a pale, more muted version of the manic pixie dream girl.

With the added bonus of Dustin O'Halloran's ethereal and atmospheric score infusing Breathe In with a moody and fragile ambiance, this is an understated and raw offering from Doremus.


  1. I'm really on the fence about this one... I have it in my watchlist, it sounds good, but at the same time not as good as it could be, you know? But I'll see it anyway, lovely review Nell!

    1. Thank you - I still feel a bit ambivalent about it myself. A lot of aspects could have been further developed and made stronger especially with regards to the characters and their motivations. Not one of my favourites, but clear to see why it would be a contender at Sundance or favoured by those more inclined to 'indie' dramas.