Amy Koppelman’s adaptation of her own novel stars Amanda Seyfried as a seemingly perfect new mom with postpartum depression.
Few things are harder to describe – or more urgent to recognize – than postpartum depression, while Amy Koppelman’s “A Mouthful of Air” could be a low budget drama shot with the simplicity of a newbie filmmaker. that’s just trying not to trip over its own story, the degree of difficulty here is still off the charts. So it’s a good thing that Koppelman knows this story inside and out: not only as someone who has suffered from postpartum depression herself, but also as the author of the 2003 novel about which this film. is based.
His intimate understanding of the shame and uncertainty that arose from such an inexplicable mood disorder (as well as the false promise of personal strength as a defense against depression) turns out to be the saving grace of a beginning that strives to function both as an instinct. punch melodrama and PSA about the wonders of Wellbutrin. And yet, Koppelman’s attempts to do too much are easily forgiven in a film that often seems to do so little. So is the writer / director’s rookie awkwardness, which is offset not only by Amanda Seyfried’s expert performance in the lead role, but also – and more importantly – by Koppelman’s unwavering belief in limits. of self-expression.
“A Mouthful of Air” opens with a content warning for people with a history of depression or anxiety, and it’s a warning potential viewers should take seriously. This isn’t a “hard movie to watch” by usual standards – Koppelman’s elliptical approach is so smooth that the most seismic moments in his film are only experienced by their lines – but his delicate touch does nothing but highlight the horror film’s tenacity of mental illness, which follows Hamilton Heights mum Julie Davis (Seyfried) through protective layer upon layer of privilege, love and positivity administered by Paul Giamatti.
Julie first tries to kill herself a few months before her son Teddy’s first birthday; she’s holding a scalpel in the bathroom, it subconsciously bounces in a skip hop that’s parked in front of “Sesame Street”, and the whole scene is so bizarre that even Frank DeMarco’s camera doesn’t seem confused about what’s going on. goes into the prologue. Everything is perfect except the suicide attempt.
From the outside, Julie looks like the kind of mom whose mere existence makes other new parents want to apologize to their own children. She’s a beaming movie star even in the overalls she wears around her large apartment, her husband Ethan (Finn Wittrock) is so handsome that her face always betrays a baseline of happiness, and her job as a author of children’s books – a detail that Koppelman’s script fumbles around at every turn, and struggles to define itself as a job or a hobby – seems to guarantee a strong bond with his son. If “A Mouthful of Air” hadn’t been filmed in 1995 (a subtle bloom that allows for the occasional flash-forward, as well as a relatively primitive understanding of the postpartum period), you could easily imagine that Julie is the influencer mom. easiest in the world on Instagram.
And yet Seyfried – often bubbly, never austere – leads every scene with such a thrilling degree of fear and fragility that we spend this entire movie waiting for the other shoe to drop. Julie’s mother (Amy Irving) still hangs out, fearing to let her daughter take care of the simpler parenting tasks. Julie’s callous sister-in-law (Jennifer Carpenter) confronts her with the selfishness of suicide as they sit down for drinks at a downtown bar. Even the super of Julie’s apartment building looks at this affluent white woman as if she might collapse at the slightest disturbance.
Gracefully or not, everyone in Julie’s life is convinced that she is just one trigger away from taking her, and Julie herself has only so much energy to provide stability. Her panic attacks and other nervous episodes aren’t particularly convincing, but the scenes between Julie and her psychiatrist, Dr. Sylvester (Giamatti) are blunt on the character’s headspace in a way that stops even the missteps. more hokis from the movie. “I felt spoiled and too weak,” she told him in an upbeat use of the past, “like any other woman would do a better job of taking care of Teddy.”
Any parent, regardless of their mental health, can understand the cruel anxiety of feeling unfit to raise their own child, just as any parent can understand the fear that your children will not love you when they grow up. . Julie can’t even console herself that her own parents feel the same way, as her abusive father – initially confined to a series of grainy flashbacks that push a destabilized film to the brink of dissolution – was in fact unfit. to raise his own. child (and she doesn’t like it as a result).
Later, Julie’s father will return in one of the film’s half-hearted attempts to explain the source of her despair; or, more precisely, to explain why neither of these explanations is quite enough. The drama of these scenes could just as easily be ineffective on purpose, as Koppelman argues that rational solutions can only be effective in the face of irrational problems. “You can be as strong as Hercules himself,” cooed Dr Sylvester, “but if you fall into a pool and can’t swim, you’ll drown.”
It’s a moral Koppelman conveys through an unstable mix of slow tragedy and “This Is Us” level melodrama. Much contained in close-ups so extreme that even his peach down must convey a sense of dislocation, Seyfried’s performance sidesteps the histrionics in favor of something more honest and upsetting. She plays Julie as a wide-eyed woman who knows how much she has to lose, and her chirping face never makes us forget how desperately Julie wants to know how to keep him (Dr Sylvester reads her patient one of the last poems by Sylvia Plath to emphasize its lightness).
“A Mouthful of Air” only has a blast when Julie is offscreen, as the various devices Koppelman uses to flesh out such an inner story – animated interludes, a fractured timeline, a credibility-jeopardizing punch drama of the film to tear a few tears – all conspire to suggest a lesson that was more effective on the page. The movie is too haunted by helplessness to risk feeling didactic, but it’s unambiguously a message movie, and the message is you can’t argue with brain chemistry. If even Julie Davis can sink into such despair, Koppelman insists, then ordinary mortals shouldn’t be ashamed of taking the drugs that could save their lives.
Sony Pictures Entertainment will release “A Mouthful of Air” in theaters on Friday, October 29.