No. Just . . . . . . no. It was all feeling so right, so right, and then it all went so wrong.
Breathe In is yet another movie about a mid-life crisis happening to an otherwise happy fella (Keith, played by Guy Pearce). To say it’s all been done before is to dismiss it without clarifying that it really has ALL been done before. Better. Pearce plays a music teacher who still yearns for a life as a proper musician, despite the happy life he has with his wife (Amy Ryan) and daughter (Mackenzie Davis). But a visiting exchange student (Sophie, played by Felicity Jones), who also happens to be very talented on the piano, starts to make Keith re-appraise his life and consider a very different path for his future.
Think of a cross between Albatross (a previous EIFF screening that also featured Felicity Jones) and Poison Ivy and you have Breathe In. Well, you may have to add some moments with a cello or piano being played, but it’s really very close. Funnily enough, if the movie had taken either of those approaches to the material (light and quite amusing or entertainingly trashy) then it would have made for a more enjoyable experience. As it is, everything is done very seriously, even when it’s almost laughably bad (as is the case with the hilariously cliched scenes in the second half of the movie juxtaposing some swelling orchestral music being played with scenes of character fates that belong in any major soap opera).
Director Drake Doremus (who co-wrote the screenplay with Ben York Jones) is the one to blame. He keeps everything bleak and often (always?) uses hand-held camera shots, usually hanging back slightly and “eavesdropping” on the conversations and character interactions. Because there’s no REAL intensity ever put onscreen, everything just feels half-hearted and horribly dull, as well as being mind-numbingly predictable and almost constantly hard to swallow from start to finish.
The cast do their best, it’s such a shame that they’re left with such poor material, made worse by how it’s mishandled. Pearce is a great actor, and also looks at ease in the scenes with him playing a cello, while Felicity Jones is a young actress I have always enjoyed – that’s why the movie has been saved from an even lower rating. Amy Ryan is also fantastic, playing a loving wife who can also, without thinking, belittle her husband by referring to something he views as work as a hobby and making gentle fun of his “rock ‘n’ roll” past. Mackenzie Davis does okay in the first half of the movie, but is then almost completely abandoned in the second half, left to go through the motions as her character moves from one cliche to the next, in between moments of standing there like someone suffering from a concussion. Matthew Daddario plays a standard douchebag with a winning smile, and Alexandra Wentworth and Kyle Maclachlan have fun with their few minutes onscreen.
Despite the warning signs at the start of the movie, I wanted to like this. I winced at a number of the early mis-steps and willed the whole thing to pick itself up, dust itself off and do better on the way to the end credits. Sadly, that didn’t happen. It just got worse and worse. Not the auspicious start to EIFF 2013 that I was hoping for, but that’s how film festivals are designed. There’s always something to disagree over and always another selection of movies just around the corner.
Breathe In was the EIFF’s opening night gala film.
DIRECTOR: DRAKE DOREMUS
WRITER: DRAKE DOREMUS, BEN YORK JONES
STARS: GUY PEARCE, FELICITY JONES, AMY RYAN, MACKENZIE DAVIS, MATTHEW DADDARIO, KYLE MACLACHLAN, LUCY DAVENPORT, BRENDAN DAVENPORT, BRENDAN DOOLING, ALEXANDRA WENTWORTH
RUNTIME: 98 MINS APPROX