Breathe In (2013)
The best is subtle and searing--but then the plot goes for cheap sensation...
25 February 2015
Breathe In (2013)

An exquisitely written story that belies its simple arc of a plot. On the surface this looks like a story of a married man falling for one of his students—been there done that so many times it might not survive another iteration. But here that basic hook is used to dig rather deeply into the problem of this man's life—not only why he might be tempted into a foolish affair, but why, in a weird way, it isn't (for him) foolish. The first half of this movie plays this out with finesse.

The teacher is worked to a delicate balance by Guy Pearce, an ever thoughtful actor who seems perfectly cast. He's a musician who has turned to teaching music to make a living, and he clearly appreciates art and good music, always for the poetic depth it gives him. His wife (Amy Ryan) is superficial to a perfect degree—her interest is collecting cookie jars. And their daughter is a swimming star, cheerful but not a bit deep. Neither of them gives him a bit of what he really needs.

So when a foreign exchange high school student—a budding pianist—arrives in their house, an obvious opportunity arises. And I don't mean for some fun or an emotional sidetrip, but for a revival of honest feelings for life. Felicity Jones plays this out with an expected mix of shy expectance and seductive depth.

The second half of the movie, unfortunately, lets some of the restraint and delicacy crumble, and the more it descends (or rises, if you like excess) into unlikely extremes, the more it is just a story told for its plot twists. For me that became less interesting, especially because I so much liked the subtle writing in the beginning.

The final scene brings home that the point of the movie really is about that pretense of happiness upper middle class (or upper class) families work so hard to keep. To everyone's detriment. There is a lot here to like in an ultimately compromised plot.
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