Breathe In review

Jones plays a beautiful foreign exchange student, an English piano scholar, spending a semester with Pearce's family at their home outside New York, he being a music teacher at her place of study. The gorgeous interloper soon upsets the apple cart in her new surroundings, as Pearce falls for her. He comes out of the stupor of his perceived dull existence, wanting to leave the teaching profession and embrace music full time again back in the city. But this doesn't go down well with his abrasive wife Ryan and the tension caused by their new lodger is noticed by their 17-year-old daughter (Davis).

One can't fault the four leads – all are mightily impressive in filling out their roles. Jones is believably complicated, not knowing what she wants and unable to communicate her feelings forcefully. Pearce plays off her well, his grizzled countenance giving off wistful and longing feelings of a life unfulfilled. Ryan is convincingly dogmatic in not wanting to see her family unit uprooted and plausibly enraged when the family dynamic is torn asunder, while Davis is superb as their vulnerable daughter, trying to make sense of the dramas surrounding her. There's an inprovisatory nature to the performances that is commanding and heartfelt.

Why then am I giving this impeccably performed drama only two and a half stars? Because I was never fully drawn in to the narrative. It unfolds at too leisurely a pace and the glacial New England atmosphere always keeps one at a distance. There are too many stark pauses and furtive glances. This is not a movie to grab you by the gut. There's a sombre, studied formalism to it that fails to compel. Director Doremus and lead actor Jones previously gave us Like Crazy, another improvised affair, but one that fully engaged and had true heart. With Breathe in, it feels as if they're afraid to cut loose and really seize the material. When it should be piercing the emotions it unfortunately comes across as and airless. Disappointing.

Breathe In at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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