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What We Learned at Sundance: Married Couples Should Avoid Pretty Young Women

'Breathe In'

If there is a lesson to be learned at Sundance, it is that married couples should not let pretty young women into their home on any sort of permanent basis. That’s not necessarily the point of this year’s Breathe In (or last year’s Nobody Walks), but it certainly stands to reason given the consequences when Keith (Guy Pearce) and Megan Reynolds (Gone Baby Gone‘s Amy Ryan) invite a British exchange student (Felicity Jones) to live with them.

Director Drake Doremus has a knack for recognizing the subtle signs of contempt within a relationship. In 2011’s Like Crazy, which Jones also starred in, he masterfully captured the small fractures that signal the end of the honeymoon period for young lovers. Here those fractures have been glued over; the considerations of marriage — children, mortgage, the usual — take precedence. Pearce’s Keith is not a new character. He is a cellist who has settled for a career teaching piano, a man who remembers his New York City youth fondly now that he is trapped in his beautiful Long Island house, where his wife collects cookie jars that hold no cookies and shuttles their daughter Lauren (an interesting Mackenzie Davis) from school to swim practice. His diminished stature is only evidenced by small moments — Lauren interrupts his work to ask for a tuna melt; his wife refers to his extracurricular performances with the Manhattan philharmonic as a “hobby” — yet he’s obviously ready to topple the metaphorical Jenga tower, which he literally does in an opening scene.

Then arrives the slightly sullen Sophie, a girl only a few months older than Lauren. She takes an interest in Keith that his family does not, and he reciprocates by forcing her to attend his piano classes, and then admiring her when she plays a Chopin warm-up piece to perfection. Sophie’s uncle/mentor recently passed away, though she doesn’t seem in search of a father figure, and that would be too easy anyway. She obviously feels as uncomfortable in the Reynolds’ home as Keith does; they both complain of the distance to the city, and her idealism, which includes the mantra “don’t let fear become your profession,” resonates with him. At times, Doremus’s affection for Jones seems to get in the way of fully establishing her character; his camera lingers on her expressive face, and often little is said, though Dustin O’Halloran’s melancholic score fills in the blanks, creating a mood out of what goes unspoken.

One of the most revealing scenes occurs after a philharmonic performance, which the family attends at Sophie’s suggestion. Keith raves to a colleague about his student’s skills as a pianist, catching Megan by surprise; she had heard from her husband that she was only okay. The man goes on to mistake Lauren for a pianist as well; when she corrects him, he covers by saying that her father talks about her all the time. The awkwardness is almost undetectable, yet Lauren and Megan soon grow wary of Sophie, and it’s obvious that she’s intruded on their turf. Doremus spends a little time observing the chain reaction of the situation — specifically the toll it takes on Lauren, which would have been interesting to explore further. But though you can see the conclusion coming, there’s something affecting about it regardless. 

At a dinner to celebrate the premiere, Doremus toasted his cast and crew, many of whom were with him for Like Crazy, including cowriter Ben York Jones, saying that no matter what the reviews were like, he couldn’t be happier with the final result (incidentally, the reviews have been mostly positive). Guy Pearce returned the compliment, joking that he was sorry Doremus was stuck with this cast “because Ashton Kutcher wasn’t available.” Pearce was later overheard telling a friend that movies like these are the ones he remembers, not Time Machine. Jones came late and mostly kept to herself, but the highlight of the night, at least for Wire fans, was when Amy Ryan (who played Beadie) jumped up from the table to hug her former colleague Andre Royo (Bubbles!). Royo had a small part playing a teacher in The Spectacular Now, as if that movie didn’t already have enough going for it.

Another lesson from Sundance? Stop attending these V/H/S movies. Last year’s found-horror anthology, which puts a spin on the tired concept by having the protagonists discover a roomful of VHS tapes and then letting different directors take charge of each narrative, did really well on-demand and for rent, so it looks like it’s going to be a franchise. The first was pretty chilling — there were some legitimately unexpected twists and creepy premises — though when every single short involved naked women, it proved that the directors lack a little imagination. The sequel, s-V/H/S, has corrected for that, but replaced the nudity with tons of gore. Between the crackling static of the tapes and the intentionally poor production quality, it was just an assault on the senses. The first two are okay — a guy with an electronic eye starts seeing things he doesn’t want to, a zombie’s murders are shot from his perspective (there is a reason why zombies make less compelling protagonists than vampies, and that is because they have no personality). The third, directed by The Raid‘s Gareth Huw Evans and Timi Tjahjanto, about a news crew investigating an Indonesian cult, is by far the best. There are some legitimate scares here, but most of it is so poorly shot and rambunctious that overall, it just lacks atmosphere.

And the final lesson: larger crowds will gather when smaller crowds have already gathered. Main Street was completely blocked last night by a mob of people who at one pointed seemed to be chanting “Bieber!” Most of the people we asked did not know who they were mobbing for, but some guessed James Franco, who was at a dinner in honor of his documentary, Kink, a documentary about the world’s largest supplier of BDSM porn. (He’s also in Lovelace and Interior, Leather Bar). Not sure whether to hope we see him today or not.