”Breathe In” is a romantic melodrama that’s so well-cast and acted and made with such loving care that you could almost forgive how long it takes to get to its obvious conclusion, how melodramatic the whole “sordid” affair is.
“Sordid” may be overselling it a bit. This forbidden romance is about a tempting British exchange student who attracts the attentions of the husband/father in the suburban house where’s she’s spending a semester. That’s about as racy as this Drake Doremus (“Like Crazy”) romance gets. There’s nothing here that merits the film’s R-rating.
Felicity Jones, who is becoming the director’s muse — she was in “Like Crazy” — is Sophie, the gorgeous Brit who comes to live with Megan (Amy Ryan), her husband Keith (Guy Pearce) and their teen daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis of “That Awkward Moment”).
From the moment she steps off the plane, there’s an unease about Sophie. She’s holding Keith’s gaze a little too long, keeping her lips permanently pursed.
And since Megan is forever taking little digs at her teacher-husband’s “hobby,” his past life as a working musician, Keith notices. His cookie-jar collector spouse can’t see the trap that their lives have become to him. With a symphony audition coming up and the chance to go back to performing as a cellist, Keith may be up for acting like a kid again.
What’s delicious here is the way Doremus drags out this potential romantic collision. Sophie, a pianist, instantly picks up on something from Keith that makes her keep her distance. She drops out of his high school class (he is taken aback) and avoids being alone with him. For a while, anyway.
She’s 18 and she has a clue about how she affects men.
“You don’t seem as young as you actually are.”
Lauren does. She’s a star swimmer at school, about to turn 18 and confused and troubled by boys. Naturally, she’s the one who picks up on the sparks between her cool dad and the new girl sharing her bedroom.
The script presents a marriage that has a lived-in feel about it, sharing the little ways one spouse can put down another to keep him in line, his futile efforts to feel young and “creative” again, the way they did when they were just starting out.
“We had a life that got cut short.”
But basically, what we’re looking at here is a screenplay version of the old Police song, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” From the dangers of a lesson on a shared piano bench to a rainstorm that ends with “his car is warm and dry,” “Breathe In” traffics in cliches.
A favorite? “We’ll just get in the car and start driving.”
Davis creates a convincingly vulnerable, open-hearted and stumbling teen. Watch the way she shrieks when she learns her birthday present is a used car, how she crumbles when a boy who broke her heart rejects her. Ryan sells a slow-to-catch-on wariness with just her eyes. And Pearce is always good at playing men barely keeping control of their passions.
Jones doesn’t have the smoldering, knowing sexuality that a Gemma Arterton would have brought to this role in her teens. She makes Sophie mysterious, guarded, a teen who must be running from something we never hear about.
But even though she dials down the heat, that doesn’t obscure the easily-guessed twists and turns in “Breathe In.” And it doesn’t change the innately creepy connection that they’re making here — a 40something man drawn to his daughter’s classmate — something that only your pervier men’s magazines would approve.
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Cast: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis
Credits: Directed by Drake Doremus, written by Drake Doremus and Ben York Jones. A Cohen Media Group release.
Running time: 1:37
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