Breathe In ★★★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

On the surface of it, this is standard fare about an older, married man becoming involved with a younger woman (his student, no less). And it unfolds largely the way you’d expect. But that doesn’t stop writer–director Drake Doremus from setting this one apart. “Breathe In” is an intimate look at a family torn asunder, not by mere temptations of the flesh, but by a husband’s existential crisis, his wife’s failure to acknowledge it, and the kindred spirit he finds in an exchange student—a chance at escape?

Nuanced performances all around, much of it done in tender facial expressions, and a score graced by the likes of Chopin and Schumann serve to heighten the tension organically.

I have a few problems with it, one technical and two artistic.

The technical: there were parts where important dialog was unintelligible, due to the sound recording or mixing. I had to rewind a few times to put on subtitles.

The artistic: Firstly, the wife, Megan, doesn’t have much of a role (though Amy Ryan shines regardless), nor much in the way of redeeming qualities. She seems a caring mother, at least, but it still comes off a touch sexist that she can be singularly blamed for her husband’s unhappiness. Why did the two fall in love in the first place? Is there anything about her that makes him at least hesitate about pursuing an affair?

*** MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW ***




Secondly, in the final act we see the daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) drunkenly swerve off into a patch of forest. After a brief scene in the hospital showing the distraught parents, we cut forward to see she’s fine, going about her life, with no more than a bandage on her eyebrow. Really?

In the end, Keith wins some—he gets to quit teaching—but loses out on starting over, as told by his muted smile. Perhaps that’s realistic. How could you leave a daughter who almost died? But in framing the affair as an authentic romance instead of a shameful mistake; the wife not having those redeeming qualities, the film makes you root for him and Sophie. Which is why it’s also disappointing we never learn what happens to her. I suppose it’s implied that she travels back to the UK, but why not one last shot of her on the plane, reminiscing?

I would have preferred a commitment to the tragedy of the final act. Let’s say Lauren died or became critically injured in that car crash. Megan finds her or is notified by the hospital and texts Keith. Keith ignores his cellphone because he anticipates his wife learning he’s ran away. Better yet, he chucks it out the window—he’s starting anew. He and Sophie drive off into the horizon. Megan has to grieve for both her daughter and her marriage alone. Juxtapose the two. Own the darkness of it.

Anyway, just my two cents. Eagerly await more from Doremus.