Andrew Garfield plays polio patient in topsy-turvy directorial debut from Andy Serkis
“Breathe” is so determined not to be a terminal illness weepie that it becomes something else entirely: a terminal illness romp.
Andy Serkis, the motion-capture wizard whose green screen work includes bringing Gollum and “Planet of the Apes’” Caesar to life, makes his directorial debut with the feel-good polio movie of the year. The movie takes a lighthearted approach to life and death matters; it’s as if it’s saying, “you only get one life, you might as well enjoy it, even if you don’t have mobility from the neck down!” The execution — especially the lead performance by Andrew Garfield — backs up the approach, even as Serkis wades into touchy-feely territory.
In this true story, Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, an ex-British Army man who falls for Diana (“The Crown’s” Claire Foy) early on. Their whirlwind romance takes them to Kenya, where Cavendish contracts polio and is given just months to live.
Diana, pregnant with their child, refuses to grant Robin’s wishes to die. Robin hangs on, defying the doctor who warns him “you’ll be dead in two weeks,” and winds up becoming an advocate for the disabled, helping to pioneer the manufacture of a mobile breathing unit and traveling Europe helping patients.
“Breathe” at times comes off as glib, and Serkis has a difficult time navigating tone as the film wavers between whimsical scenes of broad humor (Tom Hollander plays twin brothers, providing comic relief) and moments where Robin is nearly drowning in his own blood.
Garfield and Foy do standout jobs of bringing honesty and realism to their roles, but “Breathe” often suffers from sucking in too much air.
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images
Running time: 117 minutes