Felicity Jones plays a young temptress for the second time in 2014, here opposite Guy Pearce, in Drake Doremus’s well-enough-made if irritatingly predictable “Breathe In.”
Earlier this year in “The Invisible Woman,” audiences got to see Jones as Nelly Ternan, a mistress of Charles Dickens (played by Ralph Fiennes, who also served as director of that elegant film) who became swept up in his glamorous world only to then navigate the rocky politics of their age differences, their fame differences and, most importantly, their availability differences. She also served as an inspirational muse to Dickens, which came with its own baggage.
Something similar is going on in “Breathe In," which debuted at Sundance 2013 and opens March 28. Jones plays British exchange student Sophie, who comes to stay for a semester with married couple Keith and Megan (Pearce and Amy Ryan), and their teen daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who’s in the same grade as Sophie. Sophie’s pretty, with coal-lined eyes and puffier than puffy lips, and an impressive talent on the piano. Keith, a frustrated music teacher, takes notice of all these qualities. Meanwhile, Lauren’s crush and fuckbuddy, Aaron, takes notice of the first two.
It’s fairly telegraphed from the film’s opening minutes that Sophie’s presence will disrupt life around the sleepy New York suburb where she’s transplanted. And the film boasts a solid visual style and strong performances to at first ignore the inevitable -- and boring -- other plot contrivances clearly at work. But they set in, alas.
Keith falls for Sophie, and somewhere along the way the sympathetic character Pearce does a fine job of building gets derailed, and turns into the middle-aged male archetype of restlessness and horniness, while Sophie is the wise, poised and nubile nymph to revive his excitement for life. As Megan, Amy Ryan -- who is also very good -- is given one casually unsupportive line after another. She thinks of Keith’s cello playing at a Manhattan symphony as a “hobby,” for one. It’s hard to believe that with a representative attitude like this their marriage has stayed afloat for seventeen years.
Doremus co-penned the script with his “Like Crazy” partner Ben York Jones, and indeed it’s the beats of the script in “Breathe In” that need the most work. Doremus has an improv-heavy directorial style that lends itself to small, intimate moments. But the larger plot events and character arcs don’t hold up between these moments, unfolding in a clunky, even cringe-inducing way. The film breathes when it focuses on mood -- and coughs and splutters when it has to get its story moving.
"Breathe In" hits theaters March 28, via Cohen Media Group.