29 nov. 2014

Breathe In (5/10): It works while the characters drive the film instead of the narrative

 “My uncle used to say, don't let fear become your profession.”

Drake Doremus’s follow up to his 2011 acclaimed film, Like Crazy, is thematically similar in tone and style as the premise focuses on the complexities of relationships once again. I was a huge fan of Like Crazy and admired how the characters were given such depth while avoiding the typical romantic cliches. This time around I felt like the familiar premise began with some promise, but ultimately unraveled at the end. The plot centers on a foreign exchange student who arrives at a small New York town hosted by a married couple and their teenage daughter. We’ve seen this premise played out many times in films as the new guest disrupts the apparent balance in the marriage and we can easily predict where the story is heading. Despite the familiarity of the premise, Doremus managed to center on the characters and let them be the driving force of the film which worked very well for the first two acts. Unfortunately the third act shifts gears and instead of centering on the characters, the familiar narrative drives the film. There is a specific scene as we approach the climax of the film where a coincidence takes place making the action feel forced and disrupting the naturalism of the narrative. Once the characters take a back seat and the familiar narrative becomes the driving force of the film the magic runs dry and we can’t help but feel we’ve seen it all played out before. It is a shame because Doremus had established the tension so well up to that singular moment with extreme close up shots on the actors’ faces and a soft accompanying score. Even the score which I was really enjoying up to that point began to feel intrusive and loud during the final third act manipulating our emotions as opposed to the actors who were doing it so well up to that moment. The tension dissipated and the predictability took control delivering an unsatisfactory ending.

The strongest and most engaging thing about Breathe In is the solid cast. Felicity Jones is back in the lead role opposite Guy Pearce. The chemistry between the two is strong and the sexual tension is slowly built. I enjoyed the subtle and restrained moments between them and was also glad that Doremus took his time to build that tension. It wasn’t something that just escalated out of nowhere, but it actually felt authentic as Pearce’s character begins to question some of the decisions he has made in his past. He sees her as someone who he can relate to and who actually understands what music is really about. Doremus is authentically concerned about studying these relationships and showing how fragile they can be. He took his time at introducing the family and portraying their relationship as a solid one until Jones’s character arrives in the picture and disrupts this apparent balance. Amy Ryan does a fantastic job playing the wife, but her character isn’t really developed very much as the main focus of the film centers on Pearce and Jones. But her quiet performance and her glance say a lot more than words could ever say. Mackenzie Davis plays the teenage daughter who also happens to be the weakest and most cliched character in this film. She never really did much to build the realism that Doremus was aiming for because her character is placed only to move the narrative forward. Despite the film’s flaws, Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce’s strong performances make this an engaging watch. Having enjoyed Like Crazy so much I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at Doremus’s latest effort however.   

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