Cinema Review: Breathe In

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DIR: Drake Doremus • WRI: Drake Doremus, Ben York Jones • PRO: Steven M. Rales, Mark Roybal, Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling • DOP: John Guleserian • ED: Jonathan Alberts  DES: Katie Byron • CAST: Guy Pearce, Felicity Jones, Amy Ryan, Mackenzie Davis

 
Drake Droemus’ Like Crazy was the toast of Sundance 2011, with the film and star Felicity Jones scooping the Grand and Special Jury Prizes respectively. Like Crazy was praised for mixing an extremely naturalistic approach to dialogue with a classically romcom sort of plot. Almost all the dialogue was improvised, leaving the film heavy on charm but light on plot and character development. Droesmus’ latest film, also starring Jones, is a little more scripted and a lot more ambitious. The plot is, once again, by numbers, and the pressure is on the players and the cinematography to make the film the harrowing mood piece it wants to be.

Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce) is a music teacher suffering from a standard case of wasted ambition. As a youth, he tried to make it as a musician in New York City. Once his daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) was born he had to abandon that dream, and now he’s more or less settled. Then a British accent arrives in the form of 18-year-old exchange student Sophie (Jones). She’s actually staying in the Reynolds’ houshold, a remarkably uncontrived-seeming contrivance, and breakfasts etc. get fraught and whispery. Keith’s wife Megan collects cookie jars; she also fails to understand her husband’s inner life, dismissing his cello playing as a mere hobby. Sophie is a pianist, and about to face choices similar to the ones Keith faced at her age. Keith is due a mid-life crisis and it looks as though it may coincide with Sophie’s coming-of-age.

The basic plots of Like Crazy and Douchebag (Droemus’ 2010 comedy) were clichéd, almost perversely so. The former was as standard a romantic comedy as can be – beach walks, bumper car rides – with the improvised dialogue gimmick; Douchebag, an indie road movie, a sort of Sideways Greenberg with mumbling. In Breathe In, as in those two films, the organic-seeming way that little conversations unfold exists in tension with the stubborn need for plot and character development. I’m sure it’s pretty hard to even comprehend a character’s arc when you’re forced to literally make it up as you go along. This is a problem with Doremus’ films in general. Indie cinema often sacrifices plot in favour of a sort of patterning, a series of fractals; a co-operation of nuanced acting and cinematography that can sometimes give a far fuller sense of a character and atmosphere than the old three-act. But Breathe In is just too loose to make it work.

That’s not to say that the actors don’t try their hardest. Pearce is relentlessly adaptable, and he does the mumbly patois like he’s never heard the name Felicia Jollygoodfellow. Sophie is there to represent Keith’s past to him, to whisper vague profundities from the edge of the frame, but Jones’ charm goes a way towards filling up her somewhat underwritten character. We know from real life that the Keith-Sophie dynamic isn’t really a romantic one, that they usually use each other as excuses to work out, or just act out, their selfishness and immaturity. We plumb Keith’s depths fairly thoroughly and float around there for a while (and you don’t need armbands) while Sophie stays irritatingly enigmatic, Jones doing her best to define those blurred edges. She and the camera are allies in this, both bobbing around Keith as he stares out windows and fails to recover from a bad case of adolescence. John Guleserian’s cinematography is superb, all dark tones and impossibly fluid camera movements. But as the film goes on, any beauty tends to be dispersed by Keith’s increasingly manchild-ish presence.

There is, admittedly, great verisimilitude in the lack of incident and the halting dialogue. The skill with which Droemus directs improvisations is obvious and, judging by his previous efforts, hard-won. It sometimes seems as though it’s entirely up to the process of interlocution to reveal things organically; that even the actors don’t know when they’re going to drop in that bit of information that will further the plot. But the plot is the problem. American indie cinema has far too much time for the sad sack might’ve-been; I thought that Greenberg and The Squid and the Whale had stopped anyone from ever taking this sort of story seriously again, but apparently not.

Darragh John McCabe

 

98 mins
Breathe In is released on 19th July 2013

 

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Timothy Björklund, Emmy Award Winning Disney Director Joins Irish Animation Team, Kavaleer Productions

Timothy Bjorklund, Director at Kavaleer pictured at Kavaleer offices in the Digital Hub, Dublin.

Timothy Bjorklund, Director at Kavaleer pictured at Kavaleer offices in the Digital Hub, Dublin

Kavaleer Productions announced the appointment of Timothy Björklund as Director of their Dublin based studios. In a career that has spanned over two decades, Timothy has worked for some of Hollywood’s biggest and brightest names in animation and film production. Björklund, a native of San Francisco, began drawing cartoons the day he was given his first box of crayons. Commenting on why he decided to become a professional animator, Tim said:

‘I saw my first Betty Boop cartoon when I was 16 and thought it was the most fantastic thing my eyeballs had ever looked at. I knew I had to make cartoons after that.’

Björklund, a two-time Emmy award winner (Outstanding Animation Category) for his work on Disney’s hit TV series, Teachers Pet, trained in Animation and Film Graphics at California Institute of the Arts before getting his first job in 1984 as an Assistant Animator with Colossal Pictures. Four years later he was directing. Fast forward to 2011 where he directed the Nickelodeon Jr. series, Olivia, at Brown Bag Films-there Tim met future Kavaleer Producer Jackie Leonard who suggested he re-cross the pond and join the team. Björklund said:

‘When Jackie told me about this very cool new project we are working on, which I can’t mention by the way, and I saw the artwork, I jumped at it. The artists at Kavaleer are very talented and they have built an international reputation in the industry as being one of the most savvy and talented studios on the block. Here at Kavaleer there’s a real culture of creativity and fun, everybody has a great sense of wit. I hear a lot of laughter every day, which is nice.’

Speaking about his appointment, Björklund, true to the culture of ‘fun and wit’ at the Kavaleer studios stated:

‘This ain’t my first rodeo, as they say. I’ve directed several series and a feature so I don’t get rattled very often, plus the animators, designers and production people at Kavaleer are so good at what they do that I spend most of my day just stamping APPROVED on everything. Once in a while I have to come up with some incredibly genius idea, but that’s pretty rare – thank God.’

Following Kavaleer’s announcement of 30 jobs in 2012, the animation company’s Irish and International audience can expect the launch of several shows and Kavaleer apps this year. When asked about what to expect from Kavaleer Productions in 2012, Tim, who now divides his time between the US and Ireland added:

‘While I am continuing to work on that ‘top secret’ project that brought me back here to Ireland the studio is very busy at the moment with the launch of two new fantastic shows, BedHeads and So Mortified over the next two months. They both look great and I would love to have the time to work on them too.’

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