67th Edinburgh International Film Festival Opening Film: BREATHE IN – Felicity on the old Johanna

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I have had some very transformative experiences at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, most notably a double bill of SLACKER and RESERVOIR DOGS, which truly re-defined my expectation of American independent cinema back in 1992. Then it took place in August and had to compete with the attractions of the official arts festival and, of course, the Fringe. Now it has been moved to June and has to stand on its own two feet. Personally, I miss it in its old slot. One day, they’ll put it back and I’ll enjoy films of the calibre of BOB ROBERTS, EUROPA (Lars Von Trier), MURIEL’S WEDDING, FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, SMALL TIME (Shane Meadows’ debut featurette) and COLOUR ME KUBRICK. Maybe not COLOUR ME KUBRICK – John Malkovich what were you thinking?

Without competing with other spectacles, it feels less special. It does not make me tempted to make the five hour train journey from London to Auld Reekie for BREATHE IN, this year’s opener. Especially since I’ve seen it already. But I’d like to think that one day they’ll screen something UNMISSABLE – maybe even the new John Sayles film. (Whatever happened after HONEYDRIPPER, man?)

So, what’s BREATHE IN? Why it’s the new film from Drake Doremus, the director of LIKE CRAZY. Who’s in it? It’s those well-known Scottish actors Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis and Felicity Jones, of course!

Yes, I know they aren’t local talent – an Australian, two Scots and a Brit. But the film represents a statement of intent. American indies – they’re like the new Hollywood. (Maybe twenty years ago, gang.)

Pearce and Jones are recognisable. The latter was Emma Grundy from THE ARCHERS (which I listen to on my old transistor radio when I’m not getting interference from BOLLYWOOD HITZ). Pearce is a veteran from LOCK OUT, PROMETHEUS and THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO – yes, I know he has made some decent films like LA CONFIDENTIAL and ANIMAL KINGDOM.

LA CONFIDENTIAL feels like a long time ago, when Russell Crowe was barely known and Kevin Spacey – who could have seen AMERICAN BEAUTY coming?

By the way has anyone seen Alan Ball’s debut feature as director? I remember it being in production. It is one of those missing films like Angelina Jolie’s LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY.

As ever, I digress. BREATHE IN is a film about Second Acts. You know how you settle down, you have a beautiful wife, now of course much older, the beautiful promising daughter, a respectable teaching career, an occasional seat in a local orchestra (nothing fancy, but you perform, right?) It’s pretty good but not exactly what you wanted.

Be careful what you wish for.

You decide to take in a young music student from England, Sophie (Jones), partly as company for your teenage daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis).  Now, Sophie’s supposed to attend your classes. She’s fighting something. She’s got issues. Like adorable uncle who taught her to play the piano syndrome. He’s no longer in her life. She’s not looking for a replacement, but –

Oh look, there’s Keith (Pearce) with a cello between his legs.

Keith really wants to hear Sophie play and, second time of asking, she does so. Jaws drop. O was never followed by MG more appropriately.

Sophie doesn’t want to learn to be a classical pianist. She is content to be someone’s muse. Keith has those old cassettes in his drawer of his band that he just happens to look at.

Does he miss living in New York City? Heck, yeah.

Pearce is pretty good as a man intoxicated by possibility. A seat in an orchestra has opened up. He’s good enough, not too proud to audition.

I remember when Milan Kundera wrote about Bohemia. Same old same old!

So, we are watching THE LAST TEMPTATION OF GUY PEARCE – Guy Pearce as Christ, not so far- fetched! Meanwhile his daughter thinks Sophie has slept with her old boyfriend. (They had a date, nothing came of it.)

Sophie just wants to take off.

LIKE CRAZY, Doremus’ previous film also dealt with characters trapped in the moment; they make a foolish mistake and then suffer. In that case, Felicity Jones’ character let her visa expire and became an overstayer. When she tried to return, the system would not allow it.

In BREATHE IN, the system isn’t the problem, rather one’s obligation to one’s own life choices. Doremus doesn’t demonise his characters, but he does put the daughter, a swimming champion with insecurities of her own, through hell. Keith’s wife (Ryan) is not that interesting, but she keeps stuff together. She does not deserve to be betrayed.

Pearce and Jones fake the musical stuff well. The film has a big melodramatic, cross-cutting finish. Am I gonna spoil it? Nope. In this regard, it’s a step up from LIKE CRAZY where the possibility of a lasting relationship slipped away. Doremus and his co-writer Ben York Jones are interested in human frailties; life as an occasional buffet of bad decisions.

As American indies go, BREATHE IN doesn’t knock it out of the park. It captures well an imperfect family whose lives aren’t improved by earning extra rent. It also proves the rule that a new car in Act Two eventually gets totalled by Act Five (you’ve seen RISKY BUSINESS, right, or FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF?)

Eventually Doremus is going to make a film that’ll knock our socks off. BREATHE IN isn’t it. It’s an appetiser and that’s what you want at the start of a festival. Enjoy!

About the author


Independent film critic who just wants to witter on about movies every so often. Very old (by Hollywood standards).

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