Film: Breathe In

There ought to be something unsettling about an affair between a girl who’s just turned eighteen and a man who’s in his forties. Especially when he has a daughter who’s exactly the same age and the two girls are sharing a bedroom. Yet the brilliance of Breathe In is that rather than wanting to yell “No, step away, do not try to kiss the schoolgirl who is staying in your house,” you just desperately wish that there was a 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 rural 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, playing with the Symphony Orchestra, rather than being stuck out in the suburbs, doing a teaching job he loathes. Sophie, thoughtful and penetratingly observant, is a virtuoso piano player, although she’s hesitant about letting anyone know. Both of them are dark-haired cuckoos amongst a wholesome flock of soccer moms and sun-bronzed high schoolers.

This is no Lolita love tale. In another 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 last film – the critically acclaimed Like Crazy – writer and director Drake Doremus encouraged the cast to improvise around the script, so that the finished scenes are strikingly vivid and naturalistic. Doremus is wonderfully 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 also creating a disturbing sense of claustrophobia. Like the characters, you are constantly, unavoidably, coming up close and invading people’s space.

What he is best at is building up the intensity of a scene, until the air becomes electrified with all the words that are not being said and the desires that are not being acted on. When Sophie goes to see Keith playing with the orchestra, they cannot take their eyes from one another and Doremus cuts back and forth between such intimate close-ups that it feels like they are near enough to kiss. In reality there is really half an auditorium between them but – like countless lovers before them – they are desperate to believe that neither space, time or other people will be able to come between them.

This article appeared in the July/August 2013 issue of Little White Lies