** (out of four)
It’s become clear that America can’t handle Felicity Jones.
In director/co-writer Drake Doremus’ “Like Crazy,” Jones’ college exchange student caught the eye of classmate Anton Yelchin, and the two tangled themselves into a whirlwind romance derailed by impulsive decisions and long-distance anxiety. In Doremus’ follow-up, “Breathe In,” Jones again plays a British exchange student, this time spending her last semester of high school in New York with Keith (Guy Pearce), Megan (Amy Ryan) and their 17-year-old daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis of “That Awkward Moment”), who will share her room but, obvi, not her shady crush.
As you might expect, Sophie is not entering a happy household. Doremus creates an ordinary version of confining responsibilities, but he’s only interested in the dreams Keith has given up. His wife is the practical one, looking back on her husband’s musician past simply as the days before he was making money as a music teacher—a job he took to support his family. So the arrival of Sophie signals a shake-up that’s almost too good to be true. She’s a piano prodigy wise beyond her years, and she totally gets his desire to be free.
Still the most underrated young actress working today, Jones refuses to let Sophie become a pixie. She’s alluring but naïve and not a delightfully puzzling mess. The character works because of Jones, not because of the way Doremus has created Sophie—the representation of a fantasy that exists primarily to throw a husband and father’s life into upheaval.
In brief, quiet moments, “Breathe In” captures the stolen seconds that make up the most dangerous secrets, whether it’s Megan’s hidden cookie stash or Keith’s growing sensation that something’s cooking with the fetching young girl in his home. When life grows frantic and disappointing, there can be eroticism in calm. But the choices and heartache all unfold exactly as everyone knows they will, with choice delivered as a luxury that committed adults don’t always have. You don’t say!
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