Just let the middle-aged, suburban-daddy live a little, dammit!
Keith (Guy Pearce), Megan (Amy Ryan), and Lauren Reynolds (Mackenzie Davis) live a relatively simple, carefree life. Keith is a music teacher at a high school and sometimes steps into to play cello in the local orchestra; Megan stays at home, drives people everywhere, collects cookie-jars and always seems to have a smile on her face; and Lauren, being that she’s on the verge of being legally considered an “adult”, is going through some growing pains that consist of drinking, parties, loud music, boys, having sex and keeping her self-esteem up (you know, traditional, high school girl stuff). They also live in a big old house in the middle of the suburbs, so they live pretty comfortably; that is, until foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) walks into their lives and kind of, sort of, maybe screws everything up. Not really, because while she clearly is reeling from a tragedy and just wants to live life in the city, Sophie tries to fit in at the school, get along with the family and see if she can get more and more away from her life of pursuing a music career. A music career that, mind you, Keith is very fond of. Maybe a bit too fond of.
Yeah, you know where this is going.
Which is exactly why I’m bringing this up here and now, because it’s the one aspect behind this movie that ruins it: The fact that you’ve seen this story done a gazillion times before. Oh, let me guess, the patriarch of the family must be going through some mid-life crisis where all he does is want to bask in the greatness of what was once his younger-years; oh wait, no, don’t tell me that his wife doesn’t really care for his aspirations that dive away from what she wants him to be and look like; and no, no, no, do not, I repeat, DO NOT tell me that the new girl that starts living with this family just so happens to be a bit wiser for her age and starts flirting all over the place with Keith! No, no, no! You’ve got to be kidding me!
And the reason why I’m being so over-dramatic, is because I don’t know why writer/director Drake Doremus didn’t decide to shake things up a bit with this simple-premise. You know, rather than just giving us a straight-laced, obvious story about the possibility of a family-man being unfaithful to his wife, under his own roof no less, he could have thrown a little twist or two here and there. But nope, it’s all pretty simple from the start – Keith’s eyes will begin to wander towards Sophie, they’ll begin to chat, flirt a little, and eventually, it will get so strung out of control that he’ll come to a crossroads in his life where he doesn’t know who he wants to be with for the rest of this life: The young, blissful 18-year-old Brit, or the middle-aged, boring and more controlling house-wife he’s been with for the past 20 years?
Ugh, ugh, ugh! Conventional, conventional, conventional!
However, maybe I am being a bit too hard on this movie, because while Doremus may not fully run away from the conventions of the overly-familiar plot-line he’s working with, he still finds some ways to breath new life into them (pun intended). Rather than focusing on the sexual-tension between Keith and Sophie, and how much of it continues to boil and boil over time, we get a sense as to why, in a way, they should try to spark something up with one another. I know it sounds all wrong and immoral for me to stand behind an act of adultery, but that’s only because the movie makes a pretty good case for me as is; Keith is a bit of a sad-sack that has lost all of the joys that his life once was, what he wants it to be once again. Whereas Sophie, on the other hand, sort of wants the same thing, even if her main-objective is to get out into the city and feel the high-life, which she makes a mention of many times, but instead, has to sit around this house that’s literally in the middle of suburbia and be bored to death.
Not only do we feel bad for them both, but we also see why they’d need one another for a sort of escape from the outside world. Sure, we don’t need to necessarily support the act of sneaking around and, for the most part, getting away with it all, but we can still understand it, and I think that’s the idea Doremus was trying to get across. For that, I can at least forgive him for some of the conventions he still falls for with this story, but I still feel like there could have been so much more potential reached, had he decided to do something a little different here and there. Nothing too much, just a shock once or twice and I would have been fine.
But, like I said before, this is less about the plot-devices and how they’re used, and more about the actual characters, and the actors and actresses playing them – all of which, are fantastic. Guy Pearce seems to always be great in anything that he does, but really sinks his teeth into this character of Keith Reynolds, the kind of aging-daddy you want to share a beer with and just let him know it will be alright, rather than going out and chasing some tail. Sure, he’s a bit of a nerd, but he’s a likable, if sympathetic, nerd that just wants to break loose, if only for a short bit. Nice to see him still be able to get some quality-roles, even at his age and his star-power. But then again, this is the indie-world, and anybody can be in a lead-role; just as long as they’re good, that is.
The rest of the Reynolds family are good: Amy Ryan seems like she could somebody like Megan really annoying and cloying, but instead, makes her a sympathetic, small-minded woman that just wants best for her family, even if that means breaking down her hubby’s spirits every once and awhile. Actually, no, scratch that, ALL OF THE TIME! Damn women! Am I right, guys? And also, the gal who plays Keith and Megan’s daughter, Lauren, seemed very familiar to me, if only because I knew the face and the voice and knew I saw it/heard it from somewhere quite recently, but I just couldn’t put my finger on it. That is, until about half-way through, that I realized Mackenzie Davis was the little lady playing Lauren and I remembered that she was in That Awkward Moment, which I saw a couple of months back. Crazy how the world works, right?!?!? Needless to say, the girl is quite great and gets a lot more to do here, than she did in that movie where you had Zac Efron flexing his hardcore-abs just about every second of every day.
God, if only I was young again.
While the ones who play the Reynolds clan are great and all, the real stand-out is who plays Sophie, Felicity Jones. The weird fact surrounding Jones and the fact that she’s playing Sophie, is that Jones is 30 years old, whereas the character she’s playing, is supposed to be an 18-year-old. However, what works well and sort of connects the two strands of detail together, is that Sophie is shown to be a lot smarter and wiser than the many other 18-year-olds around her, which not only makes us believe her character a little more, but see why she’d hover over towards a man like Keith, and vice versa. She has those eyes that makes you think she’s thinking about a hundred-million different things at the same time, and you’re always on-edge with whatever choice she makes next, and how it will affect those around her. Jones was great in Doremus’ last flick, Like Crazy, and here, she seems to only be growing and growing with each and every role. I really hope that the Amazing Spider-Man 2 makes her a huge name, because the woman definitely deserves it. Also, I hope that means she’ll start playing ladies her own age.
Consensus: There’s absolutely no doubt that the story, or the themes presented aren’t the least bit inventive, but where Breathe In doesn’t get points for originality, it does get it in well-written characters, fine performances from the cast and an attention to setting and mood that has us at least believe in what we’re seeing.
7 / 10 = Rental!!