Starring: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan
Genre: Miserable low key Drama
Keith and Megan Reynolds (Pearce and Ryan) are a typical middle class family living in a nice house in upstate New York with their daughter (Mackenzie Davies) who is a local champion swimmer and now all grown up. Keith is a music teacher hoping to become a full time professional musician and move back to central Manhattan, while Megan seems happy to collect cookie jars and live the relaxed life away from the city. When a foreign exchange student from England called Sophie (Jones) comes to live with them, her simple presence within the family house sets in motion a subtle turn of events that turns all their lives and emotions upside down.
This is one of those films that if summarised, simply sounds like a typical and clichéd family drama, with an admittedly tried and tested and plot. However, that simply does not do it justice as it one of those films that is intelligently made and takes this tried and tested plot and turns into something subtle that is heart achingly moving and deeply involving. This is a film about subtleties in which expressions or glances speak a thousand words. This is also not the first film to involve music teachers falling for their musical students while their wife has no interest in music, but yet Breathe In is done in a way that feels fresh and heartbreakingly raw.
The desperation and longing is only enhanced by the excellent performances. I have always been a huge Guy Pearce fan as he is an extremely diverse actor (remember Priscilla: Queen of the Desert?), he can nail roles in the likes of Iron Man 3 in his sleep but here reminds us that he is a great actor with an absolute acting master class. As essentially the protagonist, he (like all the characters) says very little, but his body language or expressions describe so much more feelings than simple dialogue ever could. At social functions with his wife, he tries to talk about his music playing (his one true passion) but no one, including his wife seems to care. The expression in his face at this point sums up his internal loneliness and frustration way more than I can describe here with words. Amy Ryan, Felicity Jones and newcomer Davies also give subtle, understated and excellent performances.
This is indeed a film that poses many poignant questions on relationships, and very often does not provide the answers. Indeed, there may be no answers at all but these questions are posed with such poignancy and power that they linger in our mind long after the film has finished. This in my view is a film that is quite a personal experience in some ways as it may well pose certain questions that vary on the individual viewers’ own personal experience of relationships. I would say this makes the experience of the film more rewarding, poignant and engaging. I found myself thinking about the questions Breathe In raises long after the film had finished.
As the narrative develops there is of course the element of inevitable melancholy, and though in isolation they may sound clichéd and not exactly original, but yet it is depicted with such maturity and genuine emotion form both director and cast. Some have described the ending as rushed and ambiguous; I personally found it to be both poignant and appropriate with the themes of the entire narrative. It is a scene that mirrors the opening scene, where posing for photographs this family, like so many of us put on a show pretending to be happy and satisfied, yet below the surface feel isolation, frustration and loneliness. Yet we make sacrifices when in relationships, and sometimes that sacrifice is actually our own happiness.
There are inevitably some plot developments that feel contrived and perhaps a little convenient, but this is forgivable due to the brutal honesty of the naturalistic dialogue and raw emotion that dominates the entire narrative. Admittedly one justified criticism is that Amy Ryan’s character is a little under developed, meaning we perhaps inevitably side with Pearce and Jones’ characters more, but the reasons behind their actions do genuinely feel justified.
How you feel after watching this film may well depend on your personal experience of relationships and current view on relationships, but either way Breathe In is a film that may not leave you feeling particularly optimistic, but will definitely linger in your mind.
Despite the familiar plot, Breathe In is a superbly acted and beautifully crafted poignant and raw drama about relationships. Containing an almost overbearing feeling of longing and desperation that truly engages from start to finish, its poignant questions and subtle expressions of feelings will stay with you for days.