Breathe (2017)

“I want to just survive.”

Breathe means well by its true story, looks rich and luxurious, and even sustains a strong combo of incredibly moving performances for 2 whole hours. However, the film and the story both drench us in the waters of springs that have no credible or natural source, erupting from the ether like a mirage rather than an organic being worth chasing and imbibing. It’s all cutesy, cursory, curtsy happenstance that takes place and unfolds with little intellectual engagement. Breathe displays the ambitions of a reckless thrill-seeker, willing to jump from the platform before making sure that their bungee rope is tethered to something foundational or concrete. The leap is breathtaking, and the fall is inevitably bittersweet.

Like a jejune freshman attempting to forge their identity in the halls of a clicky and networked high school, Breathe starts with little to no individuality outside of its pointlessly plucky personality, so eager and feverish and naive, all before graduating to the levels of seniority that can only be earned through time and perspective. Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) strikes up a rocky relationship with Diana (Claire Foy). Their pendulum of a courtship sways back and forth. They marry, he grows ill, her belly balloons with a child. Stricken by Polio, Robin wants to end his life as an inactive observer instead of the active participant he longs to be, and is eventually convinced otherwise in order to watch his son grow-up. Breathe makes sense and can be moving at times, but I fear that these emotional responses are merely triggered and involuntary reactions. The big picture is too small.

Breathe feels painful at times for completely opposite reasons. In the first half, the film is an umitigated and undeniable mess, building its piecemeal story with sparse character details. It’s a painfully plain depiction of golden era romances. Thankfully in the second half, the picture’s vanilla tone is saved by two seasoned performers who are able to conjure and channel true emotion from this empty-hearted script. It’s painfully raw and revealing as we watch a couple use their hardship to help others. What starts as an empty and cheaply gilded frame missing a lifelike portrait becomes a more honest, weathered, sincere Polaroid of people navigating the trials and pitfalls of their unanticipated way of life together. One half greets its audience with a snooty smile and an ambivalent handshake. The other looks into our pupils, patiently and purposefully, before saying a sincere hello. Guess which segment functions best?

So far, I’ve found that one of the greatest and most basic joys in life is the ability to make another person feel good. To lend a hand, to open an ear, to fix your eyes on a person who’s desperate to be seen. Whether you’re doing the giving or the receiving doesn’t matter all that much; such an umbilical connection shares its life source completely. This is where the film malfunctions. Breathe only works – sporadically and all to briefly – when it abstains from a sheeny and shiny sentimentality, grounding itself by the stellar work of Garfield and Foy. First time helmer Andy Serkis sure knows how to direct his performers, but the story itself is subject to gusts of wind and Nitin Sawhney’s utterly ridiculous compositions. This stifled and stymied story opens up only when its trachea has been forcibly punctured, letting out a sharp exhale, all while still never releasing a cool or calming breath. Breathe inspires endless chest compressions because you don’t want such a pretty thing to die, at least until you grow tired and realize that you’re looking at a convincing maniquin. It’s ironic that such a bland movie preaches the brilliance of life without allowing itself to actually feel alive.

“He’s practically a stranger.”

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

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