Director Drake Doremus showed early signs of promise with Like Crazy, the 2011 Sundance Grand Jury prize winner that offered glimpses of a new age no-holds barred love story, but ended up registering as a dopey romance that failed to burrow deep into its characters and their mission to sustain a long distance relationship. With Breathe In, the director’s latest, it’s clear that Doremus has failed to capitalize on the miscues of his earlier film, this time churning out a non-descript and easily telegraphed portrait of infidelity and longing. Caught in the crosshairs of Doremus’ excruciatingly tepid affair are a solid group of actors, who, despite their best abilities, are incessantly hampered by the director’s unrewarding improvisational aesthetic.
Since it’s become commonplace for young indie directors to tackle middle-aged unrest in such familiar fashion, it would be refreshing to see some deviation from the same old shtick. On paper, Doremus seems capable of transcending said shtick with an agreeable visual style and the ability to roundup a nice cast, but here, there’s no meat on them scant little indie bones.
As the film opens, we’re given a brief glimpse into the seemingly happy and content Reynolds family. Keith (Guy Pearce) isn’t the rock musician he was in his youth, now teaching music in upstate New York and competing for a cellist chair in the New York symphony. His wife, Megan (Amy Ryan) remains a loving companion, but something seems amiss in their marriage. They have a blonde teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who is enjoying the spoils of being a senior in high school before eventually heading off to college. The prospect of Lauren leaving promises to place an even bigger rift between Keith and Megan, the former of whom misses the spontaneity and artistic creativity of his youth.
Their safe and domesticated dynamic is put to the test when they become the host family for a beautiful British exchange student named Sophie (Jones), a bright and talented musician who finds little interest in Megan’s routine lifestyle and Lauren’s athletic ambitions, but is almost instantly drawn to Keith for obvious reasons. Soon enough, Keith becomes fed up with the disapproving Megan, who hates the idea of supporting him and moving back to Manhattan, and decides to run away with Sophie.
Their plot is eventually uncovered by Lauren, who sees them out in public together from afar, but inexplicably refuses to confront either of them. Sadly, Breathe In mistakenly milks this entire setup until it’s far too late, failing at every turn to offer up any distinguishable ounce of nuance or sincerity. Showing up in a hilarious throwaway cameo is Kyle MacLachlan, a friend of Keith’s who reminds him of how hard it would be to keep his hands off of the stunning Sophie if their positions were switched.
Doremus and co-writer Ben York Jones are clearly game for switching up the romantic landscape this time around, substituting Like Crazy’s look at the ups and downs of first love with something forbidden and instinctual, but something essential is lost in translation: the need to care and be immersed in these people’s lives. Instead, the film delivers a disingenuous A to B approach to its narrative, often venturing down the most obvious path possible. Jones and Pearce do the best they can with the hackneyed material, but even they aren’t immune to this painfully slight and remarkably forgettable film.