Breathe In (3 stars)

Breathe In

Guy Pearce and Felicity Jones star in this misanthropic drama

Sometimes it’s hard to be a man - when your wife’s hobbies are collecting cookie jars and crushing your dreams; when your dreams of rock stardom are so distant that the evidence thereof is confined to C90 cassette tapes; and when the only person who seems to understand you is a limpid-eyed, lithe-limbed teenage pupil… Yes, it’s easy to mock the 2013 EIFF opener for its mawkish take on the travails of mid-life maleness. But the fact is that Guy Pearce’s easily-tempted, terminally self-interested Keith doesn’t get much more script sympathy than his horribly sour-faced wife Megan (Amy Ryan), his vapid teen daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), or Sophie (Felicity Jones), the uppity British exchange student who turns his head and comes between them all. Everyone in this movie is a git, basically; no-one trusts or respects anyone, everyone snoops, friendship is fake and love but a passing fever. Phew! Happy Opening Night, everyone!

Breathe In has its strengths – gorgeous pebble-hued cinematography, a fine soundtrack and some neatly judged performances. Director Drake Doremus and co-scripter Ben York Jones also have a nice line in underplaying potentially melodramatic movements. But on the whole the film’s sourness feels sophomoric – the attempt of a young director overly affected by American Beauty and The Ice Storm to seem worldly-wise – and its events have tendency to feel more like Things That Happen In A Film than consequences of the organic actions of deeply-realised characters. As they stir the pot of their burgeoning mutual attraction, in the convenient absence of his inconvenient wife and daughter, Keith tells Sophie that she doesn’t seem as young as she is. He’s right. Because Sophie, with her precocious calm and confidence and her ready supply of condescending philosophical homilies, does not behave or communicate like any seventeen-year-old who has ever lived.

It was a riskily misanthropic choice for a festival opener, and not a particularly punchy film whether you liked it or not. One breathed out again with some relief. But Doremus and Jones were lively presences at the screening and afterparty, and a general air of goodwill at both overcame the slight gloom that hung in the air at the film’s close. More liveliness beckons confidently for the days to come.

Breathe In

  • 3 stars
  • 2013
  • US
  • 1h 38min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Drake Doremus
  • Written by: Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones
  • Cast: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan
  • UK release: 19 July 2013

A troubled foreign exchange student (Jones) arrives in a small New York town and forever changes the dynamics of her host family.