Breathe ***

Strong performances lead this true story that inspires and isn’t as depressing as it looks. 

Is it worth $10? Yes 

You can’t blame Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) for wanting to die. One day he’s strong and virile, playing tennis with his friends and loving life. The next day he’s paralyzed from the neck down and unable to breathe on his own. It’s polio. Now he requires a respirator to breathe and around-the-clock care. Even thoughts of his loving wife Diana (Claire Foy, “The Crown”) and unborn son are too torturous to bear, knowing he’ll never be the father he always envisioned himself being.

“Breathe” tells a sad (and true) story, to be sure, but it’s also one of unexpected hope. Slowly, Robin adapts to his condition, and thanks to caring friends and loved ones, finds happiness within it. If only all of us could be so strong in such a situation.

As Robin, Garfield continues to demonstrate considerable range. Last year he was an Oscar nominee for “Hacksaw Ridge,” and he may well be one again for “Breathe,” though the roles could not be more different. In the former he played a war hero who used every inch of his being to save lives; in this film we only see his face after the first 20 minutes, with his legs and upper body almost always covered in blankets when he’s paralyzed. This doesn’t take away his voice, though, and Garfield also so effectively uses his eyes and facial expressions that he controls viewers’ emotions with a simple glance. It’s powerful stuff.    

It comes as a surprise to learn the film marks the directorial debut of Andy Serkis, heretofore an actor best known for performance capture roles (Caesar in the new “Planet of the Apes” movies, “Gollum” in “Lord of the Rings,” etc.). His inexperience does not show. William Nicholson’s screenplay provides standard foreshadowing in the beginning, and perhaps a few too many on-the-nose lines of dialog throughout (“I don’t want to just survive – I want to truly live!” Robin says), but as a whole Serkis balances the pathos with positivity relatively well. This is important because it prevents full-on weepy melodrama nonsense – the emotions evoked are earned, not manipulated for maximum “reach for the tissues” effect, which shows a respect for both the audience and the story. (Note: The film was produced by Jonathan Cavendish, the real Robin and Diana’s son, who also produced “Bridget Jones’s Diary” and has worked in the film industry since 1990.)

Through it all, the love of Garfield and Foy’s Robin and Diana keeps the narrative grounded. It is unwavering and inspiring in its purity, making it the type of love we all hope to have. “Breathe” isn’t everything a movie can be, and it’s certainly not for everyone. But it is a lovely love story that’ll have you feelin’ good and maybe shedding a tear or two by film’s end. That makes it a worthwhile trip to the movies.

Did you know?
Footage of the real Robin and Diana is seen prior to the commencement of the end credits.

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