Sundance darling Drake Doremus leapt up a pool size with last year’s Like Crazy, an autobiographical tale of love wrenched by a long distance relationship. Dialogue too awkward to not be improvised and that modern favourite, the wandering camera, gave scenes a spied-on quality as Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin got personal in what time they snatched from U.S. immigration officials and other forces bent on keeping them separated.
Breathe In is an inversion of that relationship as Felicity Jones (hello again!) and Guy Pearce try to stay away from each other, a task as difficult as two magnets battling their one calling. FJ is Sophie, an English foreign exchange student staying with GP who is Keith, a music teacher with a wife, Megan (Amy Ryan) and a 17-year-old daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis).
Boundless empathy enables Doremus to respect both the world of commitment Keith has married into while dignifying the events that threaten it, events from which he unspools his understated tale of romance, loneliness and the daily grind. Even in sublime, verdant middle-class America that grind needs softening up, preferably by someone as enchanting as Jones, whose impact on Kyle MacLachlan in a seedy cameo says it all.
Felicity Jones looking pensive.
Nobody Walks (2012), another Sundance flame, told the same story of a picture-perfect family jolted by the arrival of a young woman, but while the focus there was lust here it is subtler and more conflicted – think Lost in Translation. Both Jones and Pearce (who is having a dowdy ‘Nicole Kidman in The Hours’ moment) are damaged and cautious, with moral concerns eclipsed only by awe that they’ve found each other.
Shakespeare should be smiling in his grave because the food of love here is music – both the kind Keith aspires to and the kind Sophie used to perform before someone important left. By harnessing high culture as a root of bonding, Doremus uses deft shorthand for a connection that transcends the physical. Sophie and Keith’s chosen instruments – piano and cello – provide the soundtrack, discreetly turning you toward their causes.
Breathe In would be a lesser story if Doremus let adulterous love spin into a dream world forgetting the family founded on Keith’s fidelity. The development of Megan and Lauren is sacrificed to the central relationship but they and the institutions they represent remain instrumental.
The title is apt for a film that lets characters and moments breathe before moving unsentimentally onto their consequences. In this compelling and complex drama about forbidden fruit, Doremus establishes himself as a man with one foot in romance and one in pragmatism with delirious yet humanistic results.
'Breathe In' is released in UK cinemas on 19 July. Canadian release date pending.
Follow Sophie on Twitter: @sopharsogood