out of Five
Running time: 98
Emotionally engaging, enjoyable drama with a thoughtful script, composed direction and a pair of perfectly pitched performances from Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce, though it's slightly marred by a descent into predictable cliché in the final act.
What's it all about?
Co-written and directed by Drake Doremus, Breathe In stars Felicity Jones (reuniting with her Like Crazy director) as Sophie, a British exchange student who arrives in upstate New York and is welcomed by her host family: former rock star-turned-music-teacher Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce), his cookie jar collecting wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and their lanky, blonde high school senior daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). However, Sophie's presence gradually unsettles the balance of the Reynolds' relationships, first when she falls out with Lauren over a male classmate (Matthew Daddario) and later when Keith becomes fascinated with her after she reveals a prodigious musical talent in his class.
Felicity Jones is terrific as Sophie, delivering a quietly enigmatic performance and sparking palpable chemistry with Pearce; by contrast, her scenes with Davis are compellingly awkward, as the two girls completely fail to bond, despite being the same age. Pearce is equally good as Keith, a withdrawn character who gets a new lease of life, and Davis brings unexpected depth to Lauren, though Amy Ryan is disappointingly one-note (that note being irritating) as Megan and the audience is invited to laugh at her rather than feel any sympathy for her.
The dialogue is excellent and the sharply observed script makes some commendable attempts to side-step the usual clichés, such as the fact that the relationship between Lauren and Keith isn't about sex; as a result, their connection is genuinely engaging, as we can clearly see how good they are for each other. The script also does an excellent job of undercutting your initial expectations; for example, Lauren initially appears to be the model of perky, self-assured popularity, but she's actually much more vulnerable and messed up than first impressions suggest.
In addition, the film is beautifully shot, courtesy of cinematographer John Gulesarian and there's a superb, appropriately piano-based score by Dustin O'Halloran. The only real problem with the film is that, having done so much to avoid the usual clichés for the first hour or so, it takes a disappointing dive into predictability in the final act, resorting to tired plot contrivances that we've seen hundreds of times before.
Breathe In is a well made, sharply observed and emotionally engaging relationship drama with a pair of terrific performances from Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce. Recommended.