Review by Sean Boelman
Written and directed by Amy Koppelman from her own novel, A Mouthful of Air is the type of mature, unflashy character drama that we don’t often see from the studio system anymore. Although the narrative structure often works against the film, it’s nevertheless an effective and emotional watch.
The movie follows a children’s author who begins to face a deep trauma after she gives birth to her daughter. Although the story doesn’t have much specificity to it — the emotions in the film exist in a weird middle ground where they aren’t quite universal, but don’t quite feel personal — it still has an impact because of a few extraordinarily well-written scenes.
Inarguably the single biggest problem with the movie is its narrative structure. Koppelman uses a fragmented, time-jumping storytelling technique, seemingly in an attempt to depict the protagonist’s fractured perception of the world. It makes sense why she chose to do this, but the result can be somewhat difficult to follow at times.
There is definitely something to be said in the film about postpartum depression, even if the script frequently dances around calling it that. Koppelman’s heart is definitely in the right place, calling attention to an issue that isn’t often discussed well, but it all too often pulls its punches when it comes close to the heavy-hitting stuff.
The character development in the movie is a mixed success. The protagonist has an arc that is effective, if a little straightforward, and has the intended emotional impact. However, the supporting characters are all very shallow. No one has much of a purpose other than to support and hold back the protagonist, and we are given very little reason to care about anyone but her.
Amanda Seyfried gives an excellent performance in her leading role. Her performance feels completely authentic, both when she is delivering dialogue and has to communicate with more subtle emotions. The supporting cast has some strong actors, like Finn Wittrock, Paul Giamatti, and Britt Robertson, but they aren’t given much to do.
From a technical standpoint, there are some things here that are done in a very straightforward way and others that are really interesting. There are some sequences in the film done in sketch-like animation to mimic the children’s book aspect of the story, and this creates an interesting juxtaposition, and then there are other parts shot in an oversaturated, melodramatic way.
A Mouthful of Air is much better than one would expect from an under-the-radar theatrical release like this. Although it would have been better had the structure been a bit more simple, it has enough great moments to be worthwhile.
A Mouthful of Air hits theaters on October 29.