I spent much of Breathe In in suspense–holding my breath, as it were. Keith and Megan Reynolds (Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan) live, happily, with their teenage daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) in a comfortable town an hour or two outside of New York. Keith teaches piano at the high school and dreams of playing cello with the symphony in the city; Megan sells hand-crafted candy jars. Into their home comes a British foreign-exchange student, Sophie (Felicity Jones).
Sophie is in Keith’s piano class, and when she sits down to play a Chopin piece (sigh: pianists in the movies are always playing Chopin; what I’d give for a bit of Grieg), she turns out to be a prodigy. The two of them, Sophie and Keith, turn out to be kindred spirits. She feels oppressed by the demands of her piano skill; he feels trapped as a teacher, a reliable profession he reached for when he became a father at a young age.
Keith signs up to audition for a cellist position with the symphony that becomes available; Sophie teaches him a breathing technique to help him relax. The two begin to bond, and the question becomes, where will their relationship take them? Now the dread begins to build; this being a movie, something’s gonna happen, probably unpleasant.
There’s a bit of melodrama, but those expecting an operatic smash-up will be disappointed (or perhaps relieved). The main charm of this film is Pearce’s performance–warm but not showy, conflicted but not agonized.
After seeing the film I learned that most of the dialogue was improvised. This underlines Pearce’s craft: For an Australian to speak well in an American accent is commendable; to improvise, remarkable.
Pearce is the second lead in Hateship Loveship, which centers on a quiet live-in caretaker named Johanna (Kristen Wiig). I wanted to call Johanna mousy, but that isn’t exactly right; she is quite capable of making decisions and taking action, as we see in the opening minutes of the film when she calmly handles the death of an elderly woman in her charge.
Johanna’s next assignment is to care for a high-schooler, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld), and her grandfather (Nick Nolte). She also meets Sabitha’s father Ken (Pearce), a not-quite-recovered drug addict who is estranged from the grandfather and lives in another city, where he is half-heartedly trying to refurbish a motel.
Sabitha and her mean-girl classmate Edith (Sami Gayle) play a nasty trick, creating a phony email account from Ken and building a fictional relationship with Johanna. He is momentarily baffled when she leaves her job and shows up at his door. They figure out the deception quickly enough, but he invites her to stay when he sees her aptitude for housekeeping and redecorating. The two bond; he needs a steady, responsible dream girl, and she needs someone to care for.
Wiig’s performance is restrained. A few times I wanted her to give rein to her comic muse, but probably that would have weakened the film. As it is, most of the comic relief is provided by Christine Lahti as a busybody bank teller and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Ken’s worldly, drug-addicted girlfriend.
A solid, intelligent film.