By the end of the opening credits I had already written the entire plot in my notebook. A montage of the happily married Keith and Megan (Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan) with their blonde, smiling daughter (scene-stealer newbie Mackenzie Davis) is followed by Keith reminiscing over photos of his rockstar youth and the announcement of a female foreign exchange student's imminent arrival. Have you guessed where this is going?
While predictable, the unfolding of Keith's relationship with the British student (Felicity Jones) manages to be sweet rather than creepy or icky, something of a feat. As one questioner told Doremus during the Q & A after the Eccles premiere, "you're comfortable with the uncomfortable." Furthermore, the writers also manage to present a believable love story based on emotions, not lust.
"Breathe In" shows filmmaking chops: Doremus relies less on improvisation this time around and likes to find telling looks that say more than dialogue. But the well-shot film lacks insight; it left me tense and unfulfilled.
Some other critics were more positive on the film. Here's a roundup:
Drake Doremus, the director of Sundance hit “Like Crazy,” which earned two top awards here two years ago before flopping in general release, somewhat repeats himself with the quiet, gentle but deeply felt love story “Breathe In,” but this companion piece is nearly as effective and touching as the earlier one. As in “Like Crazy,” the superb Felicity Jones plays a British student (then she was in college, now she’s back to high school) who comes to the States to draw out a soulful creative American.
If the film does have a flaw it’s that the storyline follows a fairly predictable path, but the raw performances and Doremus’ inspiring direction are so effective at getting you invested in these characters that this minor quibble is quickly rendered insignificant by the film’s haunting closing sequence. The key is in the execution, and that’s where Breathe In excels.
The story of the ingenue who enters the fold and awakens deep feelings is nothing new, but Doremus makes it all utterly captivating. He mines just the right amount of drama and spontaneous comedy from each moment and the foreshadowing is perfectly weighted. As they did on Like Crazy, Doremus and co-screenwriter Ben York Jones wrote a detailed outline for each scene without dialogue and rehearsed with the cast for several weeks while they improvised the words.
It helps to have a fine cast. Pearce is rarely disappointing, and as Keith, brings a deceptively shallow authority that Sophie can see right through. Jones impresses again and imbues Sophie with a wise head and a gently haunted manner that speaks to an almost prescient awareness of how all this is likely to end. Ryan and Davis have less to do but offer strong support.