Some films end up being so well made that the filmmakers inadvertently siphon all relevant meaning from them. This doesn’t imply that there are no longer lessons to learn or case studies worth our times and attention. It may signal that we – as a society – are in need of a bigger, grander, more definitive vision, though, if we’re truly to learn how to jump that next hurdle or to respond to that next big challenge.
This is probably even truer when it comes to dealing with matters of the heart. With an instrument that’s large enough to be tuned or shattered by the smallest of gestures, wouldn’t it be nice if a film worked so hard to make our effort worthwhile?
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Father Keith (Guy Pearce), mother Megan (Amy Ryan) and 17-year-old daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), live a comfortable life but there is something missing. Megan is never quite satisfied with the way things are. Keith has given up his dreams of being a musician for the steady paycheck of a music teacher. When a beautiful foreign exchange student, Sophie (Felicity Jones), comes into their lives, Keith is soon drawn to her.”
There’s more, but methinks you get the gist of it. This is yet another of these Hollywood-esque indictments of the American Dream. (No, I’m not gonna bash Hollywood; I’m just pointing out the obvious so it’s out of the way, haters!)
Clearly, BREATHE IN is expertly made. I’ll probably mention it again below, but it’s wonderfully photographed, giving life itself some of the most picturesque moments one could hope for. Of course, what’s ironic here is that there’s an undercurrent of unhappiness to all of these characters – Keith has sacrificed his dreams; Megan puts the family unit before her husband’s happiness; Lauren wants a car AND a relationship with a boy who ‘done her wrong’; and even Sophie chooses to think of herself as a runaway. So should it really come as any surprise that it doesn’t end happily?
If you’re a thinking person, then it definitely shouldn’t. Still, if you can look past the unhappiness – as clearly I suspect writer/director Drake Doremus wants you to do – you’ll find some deeply nuanced characters who are hungry for new, robust life. Megan’s unflinching commitment to capture the perfect family experience – exhibited by the staged family portrait sessions that open and close the picture – would normally be the stuff folks would be drawn to admire; the way they’re represented here, I’m completely uninterested in following her plight as a person beyond the film as she ends up being … well … uninteresting. Sadly, the same could be sad for all of these creations; they’re figments of a screenwriter’s imagination, specifically designed in such a way to make you accept them as legitimate, but I just couldn’t.
Now, that could be because Doremus sought to imbue so much of the film with his winning presentation. When you’re thrown into the midst of so many Hallmark-ian moments and then asked later in the show to see them as somehow fraudulent, you run the risk of having your motion picture being dubbed as the product. Instead of marveling at how insightful all of it is, you realize “it’s just a movie” – an exceedingly well made, well performed one – and that invalidates any feelings or lessons you’re inclined to draw from it.
We’ve all grown accustomed to looking at our own flaws, haven’t we? We’re all too aware of when we should’ve turned left or should’ve turned right that we know longer need the path and each of its stepping stones precisely mapped out for us, do we? Or am I to take away from BREATHE IN that maybe that IS the problem? Perhaps we’re all going about our lives having grown too familiar with the settings on our ‘moral GPS’ that we don’t see our flaws as clearly as we should BUT we believe we do?
I know that I can’t say for sure. Maybe that’s more of the whole “people who live in glass houses” mentality afflicting me. If there’s a lesson to BREATHE IN, then there must be others far more schooled than I to tell you what it is. But – boy – it sure looked and sounded pretty, didn’t it?
BREATHE IN (2013) is produced by Indian Paintbruth and Super Crispy Entertainment. DVD distribution is being handled by Cohen Media Group. As for the technical specifications? Clearly, no expense was shared in bringing this production to life; it’s filled with rich sounds – including some wonderful musical scoring – as well as some lush, vibrant cinematography.
RECOMMENDED. Expertly made, BREATHE IN still felt mildly empty – much like that fated breathe of air – in its final estimation. It certainly presented a real-world scenario all too often in headlines – the high school teacher who falls in love with his much-young student – but it does so in such a way that the audience doesn’t cast stones at anyone involved … not the older man who should’ve known better … not the younger pianist/protégé who thought passing interest of an older man was love … not the housewife too consumed with her own family to notice it was kinda/sorta falling apart. Some might see that as a narrative miss; but, at the very least, the film might give you something to talk about.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Cohen Media Group provided me with a DVD copy of BREATHE IN by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.