Keith (Guy Pearce) longs to become a full-time musician, but has become stuck as a high school music teacher in a drab, monotonous lifestyle that he shares with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan), and their daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). His artistic passion is reignited, however, when Sophie (Jones), a mature and musically talented exchange student from the UK, arrives and the two embark upon an emotional affair that threatens to destroy Keith’s already fragile family dynamic once and for all.
Much the same as Like Crazy, Breathe In centers on an unconventional romance between two people who are push and pulled in opposing directions by external forces. In Like Crazy, it was visa issues that kept Jacob and Anna apart, while in Breathe In it’s both Keith’s responsibilities to himself and his family and Sophie’s reluctance to make too bold a move at such a tender age that add an air of tension to their developing relationship.
For the most part this tension works in the sense that it keeps the audiences guessing as to what will happen next, and the use of music helps to emphasise the mutual appreciation and growing chemistry between the pair. Yet it is impaired somewhat by the lack of believability in the situation as a whole. The incorporation of unnecessary sub plots too – Lauren and Sophie’s rivalry, in particular – edge the script into ridiculous territory come the films final act.
It’s held together though thanks to the performances delivered by Jones and Pearce. Jones is as reliable as ever as Sophie, a character who’s clearly entering into something she’s not herself completely sure of. Her performance though, while solid, is limited and overshadowed for much of the film by Pearce. It is his ability to demonstrate his emotional intent and inner conflict through his body language that makes his performance truly impressive and worth recognition. Ryan and Davis, however, barely register in their unrewarding roles.
While there’s many elements on display throughout Breathe In that demonstrate Doremus’ strengths and promise as a director, mostly through his tender engineering and strong aesthetic flourishes (the cinematography, too, is excellent), there’s too much working against him – predictable, unoriginal narrative, stereotypical characters and dreary atmosphere – for it to be the mature, thoughtful, suspenseful and delicate drama that it wants to be.