The beguiling Felicity Jones and solid writer-director Drake Doremus, the team that turned Like Crazy into a runaway hit, reunite for the astutely calibrated drama Breathe In, an understated romantic drama about a young woman who sends an older man’s ordered world spinning. The May-December romance is an overworked genre, but steady hands guide this one with intelligence to a sad but satisfactory conclusion.
Breathe In ★★★ (3/4 stars)
Written by: Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones Directed by: Drake Doremus Starring: Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce and Mackenzie Davis Running time: 98 min.
The versatile Australian/British actor Guy Pearce has never been better as Keith Reynolds, a sensitive, gifted but insecure cellist teaching music in a high school in upstate New York whose creativity, stifled for the past 17 years, is finally due for a career boost that depends on a promising chair in the string section of the New York Philharmonic. His wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and daughter, Lauren (newcomer Mackenzie Davis), are supportive but distracted. Their cozy family nest is suddenly disrupted with the arrival of Sophie, a musical exchange student from England who will spend a semester in an American home. As played by the enchanting Felicity Jones, Sophie is resistance-proof. You could swim in her eyes.
Winning over Megan, Lauren and her circle of friends, she remains at a friendly but reserved distance from Keith, who is too preoccupied with rehearsals for his forthcoming audition to pay much attention—until, that is, the day when Sophie dazzles him with a virtuoso Chopin piano recital in his music class. Admiration morphs into something deeper and more sensual as Sophie fuels a deep, long-neglected sexual arousal in her American host. Without guile and through no fault of her own, Sophie simultaneously attracts both Keith and his daughter’s boyfriend. Quiet tensions build slowly, as a stranger in the house wreaks eventual havoc on marriage, fidelity, responsibility, trust and a stable future for a family structure that suddenly crumbles.
Breathe In is about what happens when two people find love and neither one is free to act on it. Director Doremus and his co-writer, Ben York Jones, refreshingly avoid the usual clichés that wreck credulity in most films about sexual tension, adultery and dysfunctional-family melodrama. The handheld camera’s refusal to stay in one place is an annoying affectation, but the actors have a calm, relaxed, stress-free grasp of their roles and a nice way of moving, scene by scene, into a warm, cohesive whole that is never less than totally realistic. Good work all around.