Creatively unfulfilled and longing to return to The City that Never Sleeps, middle-aged husband, father, and high-school music teacher, Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) spends his days growing ever more disillusioned with his trite suburban lifestyle in upstate New York. Brandishing a salt and pepper beard that harkens back to his days as a failed rock star and becoming more incapable of plastering an insincere smile upon his face by the day, Keith longs for something, anything to steal him away from the life he now resents – enter Sophie.
Sophie, a talented eighteen-year-old music student from Berkshire, has plans to stay with the Reynolds family for a semester whilst attending the school where Keith teaches piano. Initially he is wary of the family’s transatlantic new arrival but after becoming better acquainted with her free spirit via an impromptu virtuosic performance in class, Keith’s coldness begins to thaw and the touchpaper of his obsession with Sophie is ignited.
From its opening sequence depicting the Reynolds posing for a family portrait, Breathe In feels incredibly raw and naturalistic. Director Drake Doremus’ painstaking method of allowing the camera to run for extended periods, ensuring he garnered the most “truthful” take from his actors, pays dividends as his two leads, Guy Pearce and the entrancing Felicity Jones, depict unmistakeable chemistry and yearning for one-another. A cameo from Twin Peaks’ Kyle MacLachlan as the pervy beer-in-hand neighbour ushers in a twinge of nostalgia whilst providing a perfect dichotomy between stereotypical lusty male depravity and Keith’s desire. Mackenzie Davis as Keith’s daughter, Lauren, is also consistently understated in her role, allowing for a much more powerful performance to emerge in the process – hopefully bookmarking the talented actress for future roles.
Aesthetically the bleak whitewashed colour palette works perfectly, washing out the American youths who ‘just wanna party’, whilst accentuating bookworm Sophie’s jet-black hair, sultry hazel eyes, and pale, almost translucent skin. Despite such attention, Sophie isn’t solely framed as an object of youthful desire for the older man. Ultimately an overtly sexual element and sense of deep attraction is initially present between Keith and Sophie, but as the narrative progresses it gradually becomes far more tender, bordering upon infatuation as the pair recognise the forbidden refuge they offer each other.
There are times when Breathe In falters. Despite her strong performance Amy Ryan’s Megan isn’t believable as Keith’s current drab emasculating wife – rather acting as cheap excuse or get-out-of-jail card for her husband’s moral promiscuity. In spite of their success in depicting Keith’s desperation to regress to his youth, certain scenes and interactions feel a tad wet and overly romantic, lacking an emotional punch to mirror their vast consequence – undoing some of the realism Doremus worked so hard to establish.
Despite these stumbles, Breath In is a haunting, highly affecting, and often devastating drama with a beautiful score that will likely resonate with audiences long after its viewing. It is a film of opposites and their attraction to one-another; coldness and tenderness; love and infatuation; family man and dreamer. It relays that life can be cruel, but sometimes so can we when we pursue the dreams we never gave up on and still so desperately want.