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‘Breathe In’: Tawdry melodrama that’s all simmer, no boil

Amy Ryan (from left) Felicity Jones Guy Pearce “BreaIn.”  |  COHEN MEDIA GROUP

Amy Ryan (from left), Felicity Jones and Guy Pearce in “Breathe In.” | COHEN MEDIA GROUP

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‘BREATHE IN’ ★★1⁄2

Keith Reynolds Guy Pearce

Sophie Felicity Jones

Megan Reynolds Amy Ryan

Lauren Reynolds Mackenzie Davis

Cohen Media Group presents a film written and directed by Drake Doremus. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated R (for some language). Opens Friday at AMC River East and AMC Northbrook Court.

Though it has all the makings of a tawdry, scandalous, midlife-crisis mega-melodrama, “Breathe In” is actually a very subtle, nuanced and tastefully restrained affair.

That’s nice, of course. But don’t be surprised if, somewhere around the halfway point, you find yourself wishing something sleazy would start happening. Or anything at all other than furtive glances full of repressed longing and forbidden desire.

Felicity Jones, 30, so good in last year’s “The Invisible Woman” about the secret mistress of Charles Dickens, plays 18-year-old Sophie, an English exchange student complicating the life of middle-aged family man Keith Reynolds (Guy Pearce, always welcome). Ever so slightly obviously unhappily married, Keith lives in a big beautiful house in upstate New York with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and his daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis, who made a much more striking impression in the otherwise unimpressive “That Awkward Moment”).

A frustrated musician, Keith has been teaching music at the local high school while subbing as a cellist for a symphony orchestra and dreaming of a full-time gig — an ambition the mildly domineering Megan disdains. Sophie, however, in addition to being attractive, intellectual and mature beyond her barely legal years, bangs out a mean Chopin on the piano. And her feelings about the quietly soulful Keith, with his hot-dad gray-flecked beard, are far from disdainful. Thus their nervously reluctant, potentially disastrous mating dance begins.

After winning the grand prize at the 2011 Sundance fest with the more age-appropriate romance “Like Crazy” (also starring Jones), writer-director Drake Doremus takes a similar approach here, relying less on dialogue (largely improvised) than close scrutiny of his love-struck characters while observing the development of their feelings for each other in intimate, hypersensitive detail.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing when the performers are up to it — and in this case they are — but at some point all that subtly shaded emotion needs to turn into a story. And “Breathe In” is all simmer, no boil, despite an abrupt, overwrought, agonizing emotional climax that’s too much, too late.

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