Review Roundup: Andrew Garfield Stars in True Love Story BREATHE
An inspiring true story of love, courage, and determination in the face of harrowing fortunes, the directorial debut of British actor Andy Serkis stars Oscar nominee Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish, the activist and innovator who helped make the world a more navigable place for the disabled.
Robin and Diana (The Crown's Claire Foy) fall madly in love, marry, and honeymoon in Kenya, a journey that also provides Robin with an opportunity to tend to his tea brokerage. Jubilation and tragedy arrive in dizzying succession: the couple discovers Diana is pregnant just as Robin, aged 28, is stricken with rapid-onset polio, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down and dependent on a respirator. Robin is hurled into despair, feeling that his life is effectively over - yet his real adventure has only just begun.
Bucking authority by choosing to stay at home and risk death rather than remain confined to a hospital, Robin and Diana undertake a mission to de-marginalize the disabled, campaigning for disability rights and developing transformative technologies, such as respirator wheelchairs and hydraulic lifts.
Witty, big-hearted, and wildly expressive, Garfield gives a tremendously moving performance that is anchored by Foy's rich naturalism, while Serkis - celebrated for his astounding work as Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Caesar in the acclaimed Planet of the Apesreboot - ensures that this story of physical limitations feels fully embodied, alive, and sensuous.
Take a look at what the critics have to say about the film below!
Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times: "In only one scene do we feel genuinely moved, as Robin and Diana visit a German hospital where polio patients are housed in a futuristic nightmare of iron-lung efficiency. It's a REBEL moment of chillingly authentic horror that seems to have slipped through every bad-feeling filter the filmmakers have installed. For a movie about an extraordinary couple who rarely played it safe, BREATHE is all too content to do just that."
Joey Nolfi, Entertainment Weekly: "But too soon after, Serkis again settles into a by-the-numbers, biographical reconstruction instead of compelling storytelling, stopping short of the finish line just when you think he's found his stride. At its core, the story itself doesn't allow much leeway for strokes of creative brilliance - a mismatch of a filmmaker's reputation and material that doesn't allow him to go much of anywhere. But Serkis still takes the straightest road through already placid terrain and crafts a film that's ultimately suffocating in its harmlessness. C"
Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter: "Robin and Diana were obviously remarkable souls, but BREATHE paints them as borderline saints, flattening their humanity and carefully glossing over potentially tricky subjects, notably sexual matters. Foy's performance, perky with a hint of steel, mostly rises above these limitations. But Garfield is inevitably hampered by a role that restricts him to little more than nodding and grinning. And boy does he grin. Tom Hollander also does double duty as Diana's twin brothers, his dual role seemingly an excuse for some creaky comic banter and slick visual effects. There is a fascinating true story about two exceptional people buried beneath all this sugary gloop. But in the hands of Serkis and Nicholson, it becomes a reductive parade of jolly japes and stiff upper lips, all drenched in the sonic syrup of Nitin Sawhney's atypically mawkish score. Even when the grim reaper strikes in the final act, he arrives softened and sanitized and bathed in an incongruously warm glow. As we might expect when a film producer writes a big-screen love letter to his exceptional parents, BREATHE is a touchingly sweet portrait. But Cavendish is too close to his subjects, and the end result feels like a soppy vanity project."
Guy Lodge, Variety: "What's left is the pleasant, well-turned-out precise of a story one is certain has deeper pain and poetry to offer, executed with heartfelt commitment to the cause but not a world of detail, either human or environmental: Even Robert Richardson's typically lacquered cinematography seems to cut corners, casting East Africa, Spain and rural Oxfordshire in much the same toasty light. Searches proves he can steer his kind of safe prestige machine as capably as any other industry journeyman, though it's disappointing to see his most rule-breaking instincts as an actor on hold here."
Steve Pond, The Wrap: "But BREATHE goes down easy, with intimate moments between Garfield and Foy that are among the film's best, and an ending that may well have you reaching for a hankie even if you'd tried to resist earlier trailer-made lines like "I don't want to just survive - I want to truly live." Like Bing Crosby's version of Cole Porter's "True Love," which is heard prominently early in the film, BREATHE might be a little too slick and shiny, but its pleasures are real."
Eric Kohn, IndieWire: "Fortunately, the emotions are largely earned; BREATHE nails its formula more often than not. Robin's defiant ability to speak out about the virtual incarceration of polio patients in cold medical wards throughout Europe is a powerful stance that reflects the struggles he endures during the movie's uneasy first half. In the later scenes depicting his old age, his exhaustion makes sense. Foy, whom many discovered through Netflix's THE CROWN gives a fragile, sincere performance as Robin's endlessly supportive partner, but Garfield ultimately emerges as the real draw. With subtle facial tics, he's able to convey a range of attitudes that serve as the movie's soulful core."
Scott Tobias, NPR: "BREATHE respects his wishes a bit too much, twisting itself into a period art-house romance that's drunk on sentimentality and sun-touched panoramas of the countryside, courtesy of three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Robert Richardson. Not every film about the disabled has to be MY LEFT FOOT or THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY, but Cavendish's paralysis is so discretely handled that the depth of his pain and his wife's sacrifice are largely unfelt. The breezy superficiality of their courtship carries over to Serkis' treatment of their marriage, which favors the inspirational over the intimate. We're left knowing the Cavendishes' contribution to the disabled community, but not knowing the Cavendishes.
Jesse Hassenger, The AV Club: BREATHE does have an ace in the form of cinematographer Robert Richardson; occasionally the film pauses to allow Richardson and Serkis to linger on particularly lovely compositions, like a pull-back from a slow-motion scene of Robin at home with his young son that has a painterly quality, or a silhouetted early slow dance between Robin and Diana that fairly glows with Old Hollywood romanticism. A whole movie of these moments would have been something special, or at least something less like THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.
Photo Credit: BREATHE Official Facebook Page