Film Review: "Breathe" is the cinematic equivalent of vanilla ice cream
Breathe is the vanilla ice-cream tale of a handsome, charming, adventurous, good-humoured white man in late 50s Britain who, despite also being burdened with good friends, Claire Foy as his wife, considerable wealth, and fucking polio on top of all this, decides he's going to live instead of just lying there on the hospital bed and giving up. When he makes this decision, the movie's arc is essentially over, yet the film continues to cheerfully move upward and onward without interruption for the next 90 minutes. It's all so pleasant and affirming and, well, plain.
It could be the conservative, crusty direction by first time director Andy Serkis (the actor who brought such emotional dynamism to CGI characters Caesar and Gollum) or it could be the boilerplate biopic formula that insists on holding our hand through every little thing and event, but Breathe didn't make me feel much sympathy for a guy struck with an illness – in the prime of his life, no less – so terribly crippling he couldn't breathe without the help of a ceaselessly noisy and hideous machine. It is only in this way that Breathe can be considered remarkable.
This British biopic is based off the real-life advocate for the disabled, Robin Cavendish. The man lived a long and productive life considering he was told he had only three months to live after being diagnosed with polio.
This film is produced by his son Jonathan Cavendish. In all seriousness, it is touching that he has endeavoured to craft a buttery, well-acted, sumptuously photographed cinematic love letter to his father, who I have no doubt was a remarkable man who contributed real good to the world. It really is nice. And why not, if he has the money and the connections and the talent, why not do just that? However, for anyone who is not Jonathan Cavendish and his family and friends, this is bloody tough to sit through. It's maddeningly averse to momentum, forget drama. And when there's the tantalising possibility of, like, basic conflict, it is easily nipped in the bud after a bit of British-y speech-making, just in case we might feel like something could matter and carry on over to the next few scenes. Bleugh, alright then.
Andrew Garfield is Robin Cavendish. As usual, Garfield is plucky and sensitive and holds the scene together when the script does him no favours. You get the sense that he took on this role just to see how expressive he could go with some pretty imposing limitations, how expertly he could flex those thespian muscles. An enjoyable bit of sport for him, I'm sure, but not enough to power a feature film on. Claire Foy has a thankless role as his doting and supporting wife, Diana. Foy relishes the chance to seize those dramatic moments, which are few and far between. Everybody else is a haze of very British window-dressing and they play their parts without fuss or sentimentality. Lest you construe that as a compliment, I'll make it clear that it's a shame, because a little bit of syrup might've spiced things up.