Moral of the story: beware the pretty, pouty foreign exchange student unless you want your whole life busted up.
Not to be too glib, because Drake Doremus' Breathe In - with Felicity Jones in the role of the soulful homewrecker from across the pond - is full of grace notes, keenly observed moments nicely played (and underplayed). Still, this is the stuff of so many movies, novels, and plays it's almost a shock to see Doremus and his cast pull any suspense, or surprise, out of the thing at all.
The gap-toothed, green-eyed Jones, who starred in Doremus' Like Crazy as a pretty, pouty, college student from England, and who ruined Charles Dickens' marriage as the writer's young mistress, Ellen Ternan, in the title role of The Invisible Woman, is Sophie, a piano prodigy from the U.K. She arrives Stateside to find herself, towing a big trunk from the airport baggage carousel, greeted with cheer by her host family, Keith and Megan Reynolds (Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan). Well, Megan is cheery, anyway. Overly so.
The Reynoldses have a big house north of New York City. But it's not so big that Sophie will get her own room - she's sharing with Lauren (Mackenzie Davis), who is just a few months younger than Sophie and finishing up high school, where she's a star on the swim team.
Keith teaches music at the same school, and he's a cellist who subs for a symphony in the city. Megan is a stay-at-home mom, a collector of cookie jars. Like the beloved dog who goes missing in a horror film, a beloved cookie jar is in for a bad time once Megan realizes her husband and Sophie are in a mutually heated state of gaga-ness.
Doremus wants us to believe the middle-aged musician frustrated with his career and the barely legal pianist with that quiet, watchful way about her are drawn to each other by creative impulses, by Chopin, Schumann, by their shared sense of isolation.
Fair enough. Pearce is a good actor, a thoughtful one, sinewy and serious. He can mope with the best of them. Jones just has to stare across a room and twitch her nostril to evoke deep currents of emotion. But there's something flimsy and unformed at these characters' cores, something that no amount of jumpy close-ups, skittering sideways glances, and rainy music can make up for.
And when Lauren, on a sulky walk of her own, spies a couple lying in the grass across the lake and recognizes them as her father and her new roommate - well, nothing good can come of that, can it?
Breathe In **1/2 (Out of four stars)
Directed by Drake Doremus. With Felicity Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, and Mackenzie Davis. Distributed by Cohen Media.
Running time: 1 hour, 38 mins.
Parent's guide: R (profanity, adult themes)
Playing at: Ritz BourseEndText