Review: Breathe In (Sundance 2013)
PLOT: The dynamic of an apparently happy suburban family is shattered when they agree to house a foreign exchange student.
REVIEW: Right from the start of BREATHE IN, itís obvious the suburban family headed by Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan is in big trouble. Dad (Pearce) is a musician, making a living as a high school music teacher, while living for the odd occasion that he gets to sit in on the cello at his local symphony. Mom (Amy Ryan) is much happier- maybe too much so, as sheís constantly- if subtly, shooting down Pearceís aspirations of going full-time with the cello. She doesnít want to be married to a musician- she likes being married to a teacher. With their daughter, played by newcomer Mackenzie Davis, growing up- what keeps them together?
They find out once the enticing Sophie (Felicity Jones) enters their household. A British exchange student reeling from a family tragedy, Sophie is immediately attracted to Pearce, who becomes more and more infatuated with her. Director Drake Doremus, who directed Jonesí breakout performance in LIKE CRAZY, takes his time building up the attraction between Pearce and Jones. We know from the second he lays his eyes on her, and vice-versa, weíre in for some drama, and Doremus lets their relationship build to a somewhat surprising conclusion.
Itís a testament to how strong Doremusí(and co-writer Ben York Jones) screenplay is, not to mention the flawless performances that we never get too aggravated with the characters. Pearce plays the patriarch with a degree of innocence and kindness, so we canít judge him too harshly- even if, duh- flirting with the teenage exchange student living under your roof is a BAD idea. This is Pearceís strongest role in years, and he sinks his teeth into it. We never know exactly what his character is going to do until he actually goes and does it- so thereís unpredictability to the part that keeps it fresh.
And, while sheís passive aggressive, Amy Ryan never loses our sympathy as the wife/mom, as sheís simply a middle-aged suburban mom trying to keep the status quo in her household. Ryan plays her as a compassionate person, so this is not a case where the wife is some kind of shrew. Davis also makes a strong impression as the family daughter, whoís going through her own growing pains amid Pearce and Jonesí flirtation.
As the attractive student, Felicity Jones, while maybe a little too old and mature to be convincingly playing eighteen, is good. That said sheís certainly not like any eighteen-year-olds Iíve ever known, although I guess thatís the point, as her maturity is one of her most attractive qualities. Jones plays wounded and conflicted well, and this feels like an interesting companion piece to her work in LIKE CRAZY.
Still- I didnít like BREATHE IN as much LIKE CRAZY, and the story canít help but feel familiar (last yearís Sundance entry NOBODY WALKS had a very similar plot). Maybe LIKE CRAZY was too- but there were a few unique flourishes that kept it fresh, while BREATHE IN feels a bit old hat. However, Doremusí style and the amazing performances make it well worth watching. If anything, it proves that Guy Pearce is one of those guys that just gets better and better as he gets older. This is a rare lead role for him, and he nails it.