BREATHE-IN-bluGuy Pearce is one of this generation’s finest and most underappreciated actors. He’s appeared in award winning films (L.A. Confidential, The King’s Speech), critical darlings (Pricilla, Queen of the Desert, Memento), and even a couple of summer blockbuster (Prometheus, Iron Man 3), but he’s never had the huge success of some of his contemporaries, such as Russell Crowe and Matt Damon. The lack of star power hasn’t affected his output, though, and he continues to craft thoughtful, complex performances no matter the size of the film’s budget. Case in point: the newly released home videos, Breathe In and Hateship, Loveship.

Director Drake Doremus’ Breathe In is an exquisite drama studying a middle-aged man and a young woman falling in love and the ramifications of their feelings. Pearce plays Keith Reynolds, a high school piano teacher living in a New York suburb with his dismissive wife Megan (Amy Ryan, The Wire) and their 18-year-old daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis, AMC’s Halt and Catch Fire). Keith is a talented musician who gave up his rock star ambitions when Lauren was born. However, he still yearns for the creativeness and freedom of that old life. The closest he gets to relive the glory of his youth is as a substitute cellist in a New York orchestra.

The family dynamic changes when Sophie (Felicity Jones, Like Crazy) comes to live with the Reynolds family as a foreign exchange student from England. Sophie is a piano prodigy and more mature than Lauren and her high school friends. Although Sophie does her best to fit in, she finds herself relating better to the pensive Keith. The two, though decades apart in age, discover that they’re kindred spirits and are emotionally drawn to each other. Keith must decide whether to act on his deepening feelings with Sophie, no matter what the consequences.

Breathe In is an eloquent film, like composer Dustin O’Halloran’s delicate score. While the film may sound like a typical indie about a middle aged man who falls for a teenage girl, it’s actually a beautiful exploration of two people’s souls awakening. The truthfulness that Pearce and Jones bring to these characters raises Breathe In to a level of romance and heartbreak that is rarely seen in films these days.

When Breathe In was filmed, Doremus and his cast didn’t work from a screenplay. Instead, the director and his co-writer, Ben York Jones, wrote a detailed outline (just as they did for their previous film, the acclaimed Like Crazy) and allowed the actors to improvise. At times, when words failed them, the actors were encouraged to react rather than create forced dialogue. Some of the finest moments in the film come when nothing is spoken. Watching Pearce, Ryan or Jones listening or reacting to other characters proves more powerful than anything that is said.

One of the most breathtaking scenes arrives early in the movie, when Sophie, at the bequest of Keith, must perform on the piano in front of the entire class. Reluctant and pissy, she sits down and begins playing a Chopin warm up piece. Keith watches with interest. When that same piano number explodes into a thrilling, difficult arrangement, Keith goes through an exhausting range of emotions, from shock to turn-on to love and guilt.

That scene alone is of an award caliber and well worth the price of the movie rental or purchase. However, Pearce and Jones offer such soul aching and honest performances, you won’t regret seeing any of the film. Check it out.

HateshipPearce stars as a different sort of lost soul in Liza Jackson’s new film, Hateship, Loveship. In it, he plays a struggling ex-con trying to piece his life together after losing custody of his daughter and recovering from addiction. Kristin Wiig, in what’s being billed as her first dramatic role, is the central character in Hateship, Loveship. She portrays Johanna, a mousy, shy housekeeper hired by Nick Nolte’s Mr. McCauley to take care of him and his teenage granddaughter, Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit). When Johanna arrives to meet Mr. McCauley and Sabitha, she also meets Ken (Pearce), Sabitha’s father and McCauley’s son-in-law. As we eventually learn, Ken is responsible for the death of Sabitha’s mother. His actions resulted in prison and Sabitha falling into the care of her grandfather.

Sabitha resents the presence of Johanna, and with the aid of her nasty friend, Edith (Sami Gayle, Vampire Academy), she sends Johanna a series of fake emails from her father. These emails convince Johanna to leave the predictability of being a house maid and pursue the ”love” of Ken, waiting for her in Chicago.

Before you cry foul and say, ”Dude, you just gave away the entire plot!” rest easy, fair reader. These details are contained in the film’s trailer, and only comprise the first act of the film. The rest of Hateship, Loveship is a surprising and unpredictable love story, grounded by the wonderful performances by Wiig and Pearce.

Most of the world only knows the actress from Bridesmaids or Saturday Night Live, but Wiig shows some great acting chops in this film, giving a quiet and reserved performance. Watching her flex her dramatic muscles in this film gets me more excited for the release of her new drama, The Skeleton Twins, opening this fall.

As for Pearce, his interpretation of Ken is tragic, funny and virtuous. Ken is trying to atone for his sins, and he believes he isn’t worthy of forgiveness, in particular Sabitha’s. As Johanna helps Ken climb out of his abyss, you can see the light come on in Pearce’s eyes. It’s a nuanced depiction of a man struggling to regain his soul, and Pearce plays the part like a second skin.

Hateship, Loveship is an unusual love story, but it wasn’t strange or unsettling. Jackson and screenwriter Mark Jude Poirier’s story has a quirky heart and lovely characters you want to see find happiness. In Wiig, Pearce and the rest of their cast (which also includes an appearance by Jennifer Jason Leigh- yay), bring these characters to life and make you root for them in this winner.

About the Author

Scott Malchus

Scott Malchus is a writer, filmmaker and die hard Cleveland Indians fan. His memoir, “Basement Songs,” is available in paperback and Kindle. He wrote and directed the film “King's Highway." His family is heavily involved in fund raising to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. Scott Malchus is an employee of Cartoon Network and Turner Broadcasting. The opinions expressed on Popdose are his own and do not reflect those of his employer. Email: Follow him @MrMalchus

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