John Rafter Lee, June Claman

A gently amusing comedy about a struggling screenwriter, an equally unfulfilled actor and the imperious British stage actress that sweeps into their lives, "Breathing Hard" is palatable enough but lacks the sharp writing, snappy rhythm and charismatic cast to leave much of an aftertaste.

A gently amusing comedy about a struggling screenwriter, an equally unfulfilled actor and the imperious British stage actress that sweeps into their lives, “Breathing Hard” is palatable enough but lacks the sharp writing, snappy rhythm and charismatic cast to leave much of an aftertaste. Competently directed by Eric Neal Young, the film displays no particular feel for its environment, making it a pallid account of trying to make it in Hollywood. As a story of unconventional friendship that yields surprising rewards it fares better, suggesting possible cable exposure.

A playwright lucklessly shopping an IRA script around town, John Duggan (John Rafter Lee, who also scripted) throws himself into the staging of his Third Reich opus, “Hitler’s Head,” the production of which may have been funded with laundered drug money. Unable to land an acting gig, his buddy, also named John (John Billingsley), takes work at a psychic hotline and chauffeuring former theater diva Emma (June Claman), a job he eventually shares with Duggan. When racist, intolerant Emma hears of his play, she insists on a role for herself and is soon rewriting large chunks of it.

This key relationship is satisfyingly developed, with the friction sparked by Duggan’s resentment and Emma’s disdainful superiority gradually tempered into a middle ground of mutual esteem and affection. The drug subplot adds little to the mix, and far too much attention is given to Duggan’s play, several excerpts from which are seen, showing no evidence to support its supposed success. But the seriocomedy displays a genuine warmth for its characters, which goes some way toward softening its limitations.

Breathing Hard

Production

A Sparkhill production. (International sales: Image Design Entertainment, Los Angeles.) Produced by Eric Neal Young, John Rafter Lee. Executive producer, John Heebner. Co-producers, Brenda Miao, B. Leigh Hale. Directed by Eric Neal Young. Screenplay, John Rafter Lee.

Crew

Camera (Fotokem color), John Priebe; editor, Danny Candib; music, John Massari; art director, Lisa Berntsen; costume designers, Jan Cole, Maggie Morgan; sound (Dolby), Sergio Bandera; assistant director, Mike Finn. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival -- Market, May 12, 2001. Running time: 93 MIN.

With

John Duggan - John Rafter Lee Emma - June Claman John Hammond - John Billingsley Francesca - Laura D'Arista Sharon - Taylor Gilbert Mel Caldwell - Patrick Egan Sam Menzies - Tony Abatemarco

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