It really is the weirdest thing, isn’t it. Actors generally sound perfectly natural spouting lines that someone has written for them. Invite them to improvise, and you get conversations that no one in their right mind will ever have anywhere.
The opening ten minutes or so of Breathe In really grate, horribly so. You can almost hear the cogs turning as various characters ponder ‘Hmmm, now what should I be saying here’. But stick with it, and it’s an engrossing little drama that emerges - the tale of the impact a bright young English exchange student has on a frustrated one-time high-flyer. Sophie (Jones), young, free, endlessly talented, brings it painfully home to Keith (Guy Pearce) just how much he had to give up when unexpected pregnancy forced him and his wife to move out of the Big Apple in favour of an up-state backwater. Consequently Keith abandoned his musical ambitions in favour of teaching, something he hates ever more deeply. Sophie’s arrival brings all the simmering resentments to the surface, and it isn’t long before they are exchanging meaningful looks. The tenderness that develops between them is beautifully done, and you watch, knowing that it’s soon going to go horribly wrong. It’s a haunting film – and increasingly a powerful one.
Less successful, despite a script and a starry cast, is The Big Wedding. Robert DeNiro, Katherine Heigl, Diane Keaton, Amanda Seyfried, Susan Sarandon and Robin Williams ought to add up to a lot more than this. The film never overcomes its daft premise: that DeNiro and Keaton must pretend they’re still married, simply to please someone they’ve never met. It perks up towards the end, but never matches the sum of its parts.