Guy Pierce and Felicity Jones are the glue that holds this lolita-esque tale together
A passionate and potent love story that's less about love and lust than it is about escapism. Guy Pierce and Felicity Jones are the glue that holds this lolita-esque tale together with an air of frivolity and wistfulness to their characters' interactions. At it's heart, it's a tale of forbidden love centred around two musicians connecting in a modern world, but does it live up to it's potential?
A British exchange student arrives in up-state New York to stay with the Reynolds. Upon arriving, Sophie (Felicity Jones) meets Keith Reynolds (Guy Pierce) who, before he became a teacher, was a struggling cellist in New York City. Having settled down with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), to raise their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), Keith finds himself bored and frustrated; apathetic to the aspirations he held as a youthful budding musician, now little more than a distant memory. Sophie is a mysterious young girl whose dark and broody personality rekindles a sense of youthful vigour in Keith, she sparks interest and intrigue. When one day it is revealed that Sophie is something of a virtuoso at piano, Keith's intrigue heightens, bordering on the besotted. As the pace quickens, the two become closer and eventually a forbidden romance begins to blossom. Sophie's arrival poses difficult challenges for the Reynolds to face and impulse and passion take centre stage over common sense, as a dangerous relationship begins to take hold and looks set to change their lives forever.
Breathe In feels like a slow-burning, instant indie classic. It teases us with hints of something momentously passionate by toying with the taboo of misplaced intimacy, but for all it's grace, beauty and cap tipping to Kubrick's Lolita, it never feels as though it quite gets there. Director, Drake Doremus, seems to have inadvertently fallen into a trap whereby his characters' drive is not their lust for one another, but instead it's their loathing for the situations they find themselves in. They are driven together not by some amorous magnetism, rather a desire to escape everything that they perceive as holding them back. I didn't feel that this was the director's intention, and it makes it very difficult to engage with the two main protagonists of the movie on the intended romantic level because we never really feel like their running towards each other, rather, they're running away from their own lives. Without that connection between the audience and the protagonists, I did find that I became preoccupied with the fact that they were doing something they shouldn't be, rather than allowing myself to become wrapped up in their romance. I know that makes me sound terribly prudish, but the truth is that had Doremus hit the nail on the head, I think he would have had an almost perfect romantic tragedy on his hands.
Guy Pierce plays the tormented yet reserved musician brilliantly.
Despite these misgivings, Breathe In is indeed a breath of fresh air to behold. It's beautifully photographed and the production design is simply stunning. The house that the Reynolds live in is literally alive with character, with a wonderful baby grand piano in the hallway beneath a winding stairway that folds away into the ceiling beautifully. There's the sound of the floorboards as they creak underfoot, echoing hollow through the wooden hallway. It all makes for a very believable and almost poetic sadness to family life for the Reynolds, especially Keith. This in turn makes the audience have to work less for immersion, and we almost feel like we're flies on a wall, uninvited to observe the emotions concealed beneath the smiles and laughter. Where as Doremus may have failed to hit the mark with his central characters' motivation, he certainly doesn't miss a trick when it comes to setting a tone for those characters to move within.
Nor does he drop any points when it comes to casting. In fact, the misgivings I have for the authenticity of the characters' motives are in no way down to the actors portraying them. It is Pierce and Jones's abilities as actors that glues the whole movie together really. Pierce plays the tormented yet reserved musician brilliantly. I felt Keith's passion, weighed down by responsibility, without him ever asking me to try. And Felicity Jones, though thirty years old, plays the teenage moody femme fatale with such ease and confidence. Also worth a mention is the ever wonderful Amy Ryan who plays the uptight and lonely mother and wife, Megan. She conveys a potent mix of emotional characteristics that varies wildly throughout, and she never seems like she's trying. The cast, on the whole, are brilliantly effortless in their natural portrayals of this troubled family.
One of the biggest parts in the movie is played by Dustin O'Halloran's tender and evocative musical score. O'Halloran uses the piano to script the emotion of each scene with a gentle and at times melancholic mood. His soft and moving melodies are the perfect vehicle for how the central characters connect and though delicate, the music is rarely subdued and never misplaced.
Breathe In washes over you in a refreshing, breezy wave and tugs on almost all the right strings to bring us to the edge of our seats. As we watch the slow and steady deterioration of these intricate and complex characters, it's easy to let go and allow Doremus to weave his tale for us. Though it doesn't hit every beat for me, it's certainly impossible to describe it as anything but a resounding success - highly recommended.
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