Against my better judgment, I embraced the dramatic theatrics of Drake Doremus’ previous feature, Like Crazy. Not particularly insightful and gratingly contrived, its story of doomed lovers was capable of escaping the pitfalls of Doremus’ writing with a worthy pair of performances (Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin) and a vibrancy felt through the swift movement of its camera. There was an intimacy creating there even if the lofty troubles of its would-be lovers registered more as first-world problems rather than the catastrophic concerns of identity that Doremus aimed for. Breathe In operates under similar principles that made Like Crazy the modest indie success that it was. It features two strong central performances from Guy Pearce and the returning Felicity Jones. The beautiful people at its forefront add to the tapestry of visually stimulating eye candy. And with a rich collection of classical compositions (its lead characters are musically-inclined), it one ups Like Crazy in providing an immersive auditory experience. But as inoffensive as portions of its first half go, Breathe In’s ridiculous second half, involving issues of white privilege, high school bullying, and upper-class economic concerns, amount to one of the most ludicrous and insanely self-serious releases of the year.
British exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) shacks up with the Reynolds family for a semester in New York. Residing in a suburban community just outside the city, Sophie finds herself smitten with her piano teacher Keith (Guy Pearce), the Reynolds’ patriarch. As a reluctant music teacher, Keith’s obligations to his family are forced with his passion still in creating music. It’s the sort of conventional midlife crisis character that can be found in virtually every other Woody Allen movie. But whereas Allen can temper the dramatics with both insight and comedy, Doremus gives Pearce only the drama to play with. It makes for an incredibly one-note role even as Pearce sells the character as someone of true conflict, with Doremus regularly deploying close-ups as a means of getting the audience to feel the drama. But there’s no bite in the character or any real sense of conflict. His failure as a musician stems from accepting domesticity and convention, yet there’s this underlying factor that there’s a grand, almost cosmic, schism that can attribute all his failures. It’s just silly.
Sophie’s character ends up being little more than bits and pieces of her luggage, with Doremus emphasizing her appreciation for literature and talents as a musician, but beyond bouts of homesickness, there’s nothing else to the character. In one of Breathe In’s many dunderheaded attempts of dramatic grandiosity, Doremus apes Jonathon Glazer’s Birth, where he holds on Jones’ face as she listens on her forbidden-love’s performance. But what Doremus misses here is how Glazer captured a true sense of emotional turmoil bubbling at the start of the shot and the subsequent anxiety that came from holding on. This, of course, largely stresses how critical Nicole Kidman was to the success of that picture. But Jones is no Kidman and Doremus’ screenplay offers little in the way of self-realization for its characters. A calculated misfire, Breathe In comes from a breed of filmmakers whose self-seriousness is meant to register as dramatic. But being miserable doesn’t necessarily translate to drama - more often than not, it’s just leads to a miserable film.