Amy Ryan-Felicity Jones-Guy Pearce-680
Photo Courtesy of Cohen Media Group

As a fan of Drake Doremus’ earlier films, Douchebag and Like Crazy, I must admit to being disappointed with Breathe In. Doremus and his writing partner Ben York Jones’ working method is unorthodox: they call upon their actors to flesh out a blueprint-style script and improvise almost all of their dialogue. With hours of material resulting from every shooting day, the final draft is crafted during months of editing.

This process has paid off nicely in the past, and once again they have hired good actors for their leading roles: Guy Pearce (playing American), Felicity Jones (from Like Crazy), Amy Ryan, and newcomer Mackenzie Davis. But the set-up this time around is painfully obvious: a bright, attractive exchange student from England (Jones) arrives at the home of a long-married couple with a teenage daughter. The husband, a talented musician, is restless and openly dissatisfied with his teaching job, while his wife is dismissive of his feelings. Might he be inclined to “act out” through his attraction to the newcomer in their midst? Unfortunately, the answer is yes.

I wouldn’t expect such a conventional storyline from Doremus and Jones, even though they try to avoid clichés in the telling. The characters’ feelings are conveyed more through thoughts and gestures than dialogue, but the result is both uncomfortable, on an emotional level, and uncomfortably familiar.

Pearce is good, as usual, and Ryan brings welcome nuance to her role as the wife, but Jones’ character is something of a cipher. She sets the dominoes of the narrative in motion but seems strangely disconnected from the outcome.

Few filmmakers score a home run every time at bat, and I’m not giving up on Doremus and Jones: they have too much on the ball. But I can only call Breathe In a misfire.