Reviews

'Breathe In' Considers Inspiration

Lesley Smith

At first it’s not clear whether the high school music teacher Keith is falling in love with Sophie or with his own, newly rejuvenated capacity to create music.


Breathe In

Director: Drake Doremus
Cast: Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, MacKenzie Davis, Matthew Daddario
Rated: R
Studio: Cohen Media Group
Year: 2013
US date: 2014-03-28 (Limited release)
UK date: 2013-07-19 (General release)
Website
Trailer

Drake Doremus is a brave man. His new movie, Breathe In, tackles the coup de foudre that fells an older man and a much younger woman, cinematic territory that Sofia Coppola redefined with Lost in Translation. But where Coppola sustained a tender erotic arc throughout the movie, Doremus’ effort is more schizophrenic, as if he has added to the first half of one movie the second half of another that happens to share the same characters.

Breathe In begins as a restrained chamber piece. English exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) thinks she is spending her semester abroad in New York, and finds herself instead marooned in the city’s wealthy exurbs. Keith and Megan Reynolds (Pearce and Amy Ryan) think they will be hosting a bubbly teenager like their daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) and instead find themselves warily circling a mature young woman.

Even before Sophie arrives, the couple's lives are on the cusp of disruption, as Lauren is leaving for college. Keith, a high school music teacher, is auditioning for a permanent chair in the city orchestra where he subs, and Amy is worrying at the potential loss of her middle-class idyll, enjoyed until now at the expense of her husband's artistic ambitions. As Sophie is a talented pianist, it's only a matter of time before she and Keith become entangled.

At first, the movie subverts those expectations. It’s not clear whether Keith is falling in love with Sophie or with his own, newly rejuvenated capacity to create music. In these early scenes, she shifts from muse to co-conspirator and back again. In one delightful sequence the day before his audition, she talks Keith through a relaxation exercise: while he obediently closes his eyes, the camera closes slowly on his veined, aging, eyelids, an image that captures both the poignancy and fierce hope of Keith’s last grasp for the creative life he abandoned when his daughter was born.

But rather than sustain such intriguing ambiguity, Breathe In boils over into conventional bathos as it accelerates towards an overwrought closure. This even as the film does conjure a series of impressive visual compositions. The Reynolds' apparently spacious Victorian is repeatedly rendered in close frames that suggest the family's emotional claustrophobia, interior scenes shot to underline the lack of space for both the inhabitants and the camera. Door jambs, window frames, and furniture obscure our view, we only glimpse rooms as fragments.

The bedroom Lauren has to share with Sophie is nothing more than a boho boxroom, too small for one teenager, much less two. While it’s hard, logically, to believe that such a large house would offer not a single spare bedroom for a guest, it creates a sense of imposed intimacy between the girls. It's a sense made all the more uncomfortable by insistently minimal illumination, enhanced by cinematographer John Guleserian's saturation of each frame in visual anomie, all dark monotones and flat white light.

Such visual details suggest as well a nostalgia at work in Breathe In, in references to the erotic and sensual complexities of Eric Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee or some of Truffaut’s work from the '60s and '70s. But as the plot turns the relationship between Keith and Sophie into a rash and pedestrian encounter, Doremus abandons what his movie shares with these predecessors. This leaves his characters’ search for self-knowledge unenlightening, for both them and us. As they return to the status quo no wiser, we also feel cheated.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.