The musically inclined of Upstate New York fall into illicit love with one another in this new work from director Drake Doremus.
There ought to be something unsettling about an affair between a girl who’s just turned 18 and a man in his forties. Especially when he has a daughter who’s exactly the same age and they are both currently sharing a bedroom. Yet the genius of Breathe In is that rather than making you want to yell, ‘No, step away, do not try to kiss the schoolgirl who is staying in your house!’, you’re made to desperately wish that there was some way — any way — they could be together.
Sophie (the impossibly Peter Pan-like Felicity Jones, who at 29 can still convincingly play a decade younger) is an English exchange student who arrives in Upstate New York to spend a semester staying with Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) and her parents Keith and Megan (Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan).
Keith is a talented musician who wishes he was still in the city and playing with the symphony orchestra rather than being stuck out in the ’burbs doing a teaching job he loathes. Sophie, thoughtful and extremely observant, is a piano prodigy, although she’s hesitant about revealing her talents. Both of them are dark-haired cuckoos among a wholesome flock of soccer moms and sun-bronzed high schoolers.
Yet this is no Lolita-like tale of illicit love. In another time or setting, the age difference between them would be acknowledged and then quickly forgotten. Kyle MacLachlan has a wonderful cameo as a fellow suburban father who eyes up Sophie as she lies by the pool reading Jane Eyre. “That’s a very beautiful girl you’ve got staying with you,” he leers. “Ever make you wish you could?” From MacLachlan, the suggestion is grubby and repulsive, yet his cheap innuendo only makes the complicated and overwhelming attraction between Keith and Sophie seem more sympathetic and real.
As with his previous film, the bruised indie romance Like Crazy, writer/director Drake Doremus encouraged the cast to improvise around the script so that the scenes attain a special kind of vivid naturalism. Doremus is aware of the evocative power of light, capturing the sensuousness of a warm summer night or the intimacy of a pale, misty rain that wraps around the house like a blanket. By frequently using tight, close-up shots, he is able to reveal even the most fleeting expressions of pain or longing, while simultaneously generating a stifling sense of claustrophobia. In the spirit of the characters, Doremus synthesises the impression that we are unavoidably invading the personal space of the characters on screen.
So Doremus’ strongest suit as director is at building up the intensity of a scene until the air becomes charged with all the words not being said and the romantic impulses not being acted on. When Sophie goes to see Keith play with an orchestra, they cannot tear their eyes from one another. Doremus creates intimacy in this crowded space by cuttting back and forth between close-ups and making it seem like the pair are close enough to kiss. In reality there is an entire auditorium between them but — like countless fictional lovers before them — they are desperate to believe that neither space, time nor the interferences of others will rupture their bottled passion.
Felicity Jones pairs up once again with her Like Crazy director. Will the result be the same?
Wonderfully captured scenes of intense desire and longing.
Evocative and gripping, this is an unusually powerful love story.