And Out, by Scott Nye
Writer/director Drake Doremus has the capacity to produce something great, or at the very least exceedingly good. He displays a generosity with his actors, a willingness to let them explore their world and their roles, a fascination with the little moments they can create out of nothingness, and a real eye for the way those moments can convey immense meaning. Unfortunately, he has yet to totally commit to his stories, ignoring entire points of view while affording them tremendous melodramatic flourishes that feel completely out of place with his rather modest templates. Breathe In feels worse than mediocre – it feels wimpy.
Keith (Guy Pearce) was once one of those many guys in one of those thousands of shitty bands that play clubs all over major metropolitan areas every evening. He didn’t care if they ever made it. Then he met Megan (Amy Ryan), fell in love a little too haphazardly, and had a child, which forced him to settle for teaching piano in upstate New York while occasionally substituting for a cello chair at the New York Symphony Orchestra. He is not unhappy, but he is unfulfilled, a longing Doremus and Pearce tap into effortlessly, but which ends up being expressed rather sloppily through Ryan, who’s given awful lines to say and nearly nothing to do. If you’ve seen one nagging wife, you’ve seen them all, and if you’ve seen hundreds, you probably cannot stand another. Women deserve better than this.
Doremus is happy to afford at least one woman a decent role, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s a young attractive orphaned English girl who’s mastered the piano and can cite a dozen literary references at the drop of a hat. Isn’t she just fascinating? Doremus thinks so, his camera carefully catching the movement of her eyes and the way she brushes her hair; more troubling for the family, Keith thinks so, too, and Sophie (Felicity Jones) becomes the object on which all of his dormant frustrations finally find their outlet. Jones, who also starred in Doremus’s Like Crazy, is especially adept at wringing some sort of honest pain out of her director’s dream-girl constructions. The manner in which she toys with whether or not to act on her attraction to Keith is layered with some interesting curiosity and a mixture of short sightedness and spectacular wisdom; she seems to know she’s young enough to play around with such men, but she’s too young to full conceive the devastating consequences.
As with Like Crazy, Doremus is exploring the lengths men will go to for a woman (or really, the lengths they’ll go to for Felicity Jones), even when every piece of common sense would dictate otherwise. But Doremus stacks his deck, unwilling to explore the reasonable ways in which people can get what they want. Like Crazy was about a long-distance relationship – she was stuck in London after violating her visa, and he was stuck in San Diego to…build chairs. Apparently, the British have no need for furniture. In Breathe In, Keith’s problems would largely be solved by moving back to the city, and he even knows that much, but his wife won’t hear of it. Why? Who knows. The character is too underwritten to be taken seriously, but too important to the narrative to be fully discarded. She is completely central to the climax of the film, a moment so outlandishly melodramatic, I wondered if he was capable of something truly striking, or had suddenly run out of options as he approached the final page. Either way, he closes out the movie while hanging for dear life, desperate to shut it all down before we can see how far he’ll fall.
Doremus is obviously a pretty genuine guy, willing to put himself on the line and be vulnerable in the same way his actors are. That impulse is among the most powerful in cinema, which thrives on the total expression of a single moment, without reservation. But it also requires a total honesty, an ability to see every corner of your universe, and every perspective. Shutting one aspect off shuts off the entire thing. I remain tremendously hopeful for his future, but all the more disappointed by the present.