Picks and Pans Review: Breathing Lessons
A dumpy, middle-aged couple from Baltimore drive to a funeral in Pennsylvania and back. Sounds like a round-trip ticket to dullsville, right? In fact, once you grow accustomed to the dotty moods and rhythms of this film, based on Anne Tyler's 1989 novel, it's strangely beguiling.
James Garner plays the owner of a small picture-frame shop. Joanne Woodward works part-time at a nursing home. She's flighty and loquacious; he's stolid and permanently exasperated. As they set off on their journey, they seem to lock horns over everything (although their constant wrangling is without true rancor). But before this day—with its unexpected encounters and detours—is over, they discover new wellsprings of affection and accommodation.
You expect superior work from Woodward, and she delivers here. But the real revelation in this Hallmark Hall of Fame production is Garner. His restrained performance is a quiet masterpiece, particularly in those scenes where he is coaxing his estranged tomboy granddaughter.
All too often, TV manages to make the spectacular look banal. This movie accomplishes the unthinkable: It reminds us how rich life is even at its most prosaic and how unfathomably resilient is the human heart. This plain-wrapped picaresque film will be too slow and subtle for some tastes, but patience is rewarded. Paul Winfield and Kathryn Erbe costar.