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Breathe In (9/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 96 minutes.

OK for children.

The arrival of Sophie (Felicity Jones), an 18 year old British piano student, at the home of Keith and Megan Reynolds (Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan) in upstate New York sets off fireworks in what seemed on the outside a happy, placid family.

Director Drake Doremus (who also has a writing credit with Ben York Jones) has created a terrific examination of the intimacies of a marriage, the differing feelings and ambitions of a husband and wife, the insecurities of a teenaged daughter, and a May-September romance without being the least bit hackneyed.

This entire cast is superb. But in the case of Jones, the film shows what a difference a brilliant director can make. Jones was imminently forgettable as Charles Dickens’ young mistress in her recent The Invisible Woman, a movie whose failure can be attributed directly to the inept directing of Ralph Fiennes. There wasn’t an ounce of chemistry between Jones and Fiennes (who also starred). After seeing Breathe In,  and how Jones appears as an irresistible femme fatale, I thought how much better ‘Woman would have been with a director of Doremus’ talent. The screen sparkles with the sexual tension between Keith and Sophie as the film progresses.

Although Jones is 30 years old, she plays an 18 year-old with cool aplomb. Her subdued, seething sexiness and the slow way she attracts the affection of Keith, her elder by some two decades at least, are what really make this movie so fascinating.

Not to be outdone is Amy Ryan as a wife who constantly downplays her husband’s burning ambition to be a cellist in an orchestra in New York City instead of a high school music teacher in Upstate New York. Pearce is equally effective as the husband with a dream that his wife doesn’t respect.

When Sophie arrives with similar problems of lack of respect for what she wants and does, and realizes that Keith is in the same quandary, the emotional similarity gives an added dimension to the physical attraction.

Doremus had the cast constantly improvising throughout the shoot, wanting to capture, in his words, “the grayness of what love really means and who you are really supposed to be with.”

Pearce, who was born in England but raised in Australia so had to master an American accent, especially liked Doremus’ unique way of directing, saying, “It was a wonderful experience of listening and being in the moment, which as an actor is what we always want. Usually, you’ve got a director saying the scene is supposed to last for a minute and a half and you need to say your line within the first ten seconds. Drake would roll the camera for twenty minutes and would go back and do another take if it didn’t feel truthful.”

The Reynolds’ 18-year-old daughter, Lauren, is played by Mackenzie Davis in her debut, and she hits a home run. Her B-story shows her confronting a similar problem facing the other three members of the cast. She expertly captures the pain and is a wonderful addition to the main story.

You probably won’t see this film on the awards schedule, but this will be on my list of best films of the year.