There is plenty of opportunity for conventional pitfalls in this film, where the plot revolves around music teacher, husband and father Keith Reynolds and the romantic relationship he develops with the exchange student living in his house, Sophie Williams. For a commendable part of the film it manages to avoid those pitfalls but inevitably succumbs to contrivance.
This is powerhouse acting from Guy Pearce and Amy Ryan. Keith Reynolds is constantly coming face to face with his impending age, that his most self-fulfilling days are long behind him. Pearce delivers one of his subtlest performances, his performance all taking place behind the exterior. Amy Ryan is still one of the most underrated actresses out there, delivering some of the most convincing facial acting I’ve seen this year. At one scene late in the film, Pearce and Ryan communicate to each other years of resentment and heartbreak in just looks. They both elevate their cardboard cutout characters to something that feels more real.
At one point in the film Keith comments on how Sophie seems a lot older than she is. While that’s true – as Felicity Jones was a good decade older than her character at the time of filming – I also feel he nailed a certain aspect of the acting aura surrounding Jones. She feels like an old soul trapped in a younger person, and lends that to her character with skill.
It’s a story we’ve seen countless times before, but always told with caricatures stereotypes, whereas Doremus tells it with humans. It’s all in the subtle moments of quiet, the moments of connection you didn’t orchestrate, the feelings you didn’t see coming. When Doremus makes this his primary objective, the film is stepping above the Lifetime-movie like plot.
Even at 98 minutes, it feels like it runs 30 minutes longer than it needs to. It spends the first half of its film reaching to be wholly unique and for the most part attaining it. Maybe that’s what makes the last half of the film feel so eye-roll-inducingly conventional. Despite its best efforts it ends up becoming boringly predictable just because of the story it’s telling. The plot ends up driving the characters to ridiculous circumstance and convenience, rather than the characters driving the plot to something less maddeningly formulaic.