“A MOUTHFUL OF AIR”
Rated R. On digital and on demand.
A frightening, well-acted portrait of a young wife, mother and artist dealing with severe postpartum depression, “A Mouthful of Air” tells the story of Julie Davis (Academy Award nominee Amanda Seyfried), an author of best-selling children’s illustrated books, who attempts suicide while she is home alone with her toddler son. The film is set in 1995 in New York City and based on a novel by “I Smile Back” author Amy Koppelman, who also wrote the screenplay and produced and directed.
When we first meet Julie in her colorfully and elaborately self-decorated Upper West Side apartment, she is drawing her favorite character Pinky, who is learning to climb high with a little bird companion (Koppelman provides the film’s illustrations). Julie is also caring for her toddler son, Teddy. When her husband Ethan (Finn Wittrock of Lenox) arrives, the picture is complete, and what we see is a happy and attractive family.
But demons lurk inside Julie’s mind, making her feel inadequate and incompetent. Like many of us, she worries about how everything can go horribly wrong. Leaving Teddy in front of the TV, she goes into the bathroom with an X-Acto knife and lands in the hospital, where she meets Dr. Sylvester (Paul Giamatti), who, when he isn’t making up some weird story about candy and spider’s eggs, makes the mistake of reading a poem by Sylvia Plath to Julie to demonstrate some pointless point. A better reason to avoid psychiatry than Dr. Sylvester would be hard to find.
Julie discovers she is two months pregnant, and she, Ethan and Dr. Sylvester agree to go on with the pregnancy, if she will take her antidepressant medication. Soon, Julie allows that she can “see color again,” meaning that she is getting better. But like Ethan, who comes across thanks to Wittrock as a loving and patient partner, we walk on figurative eggshells watching “A Mouthful of Air.”
While Seyfried delivers a powerful and deeply compassionate performance as the troubled wife, mother and author and artist, I must confess that I found it disturbing to watch Julie taking care of her children, knowing what she was capable of.
In the role of Julie’s vain, but lovable mother Bobbi, Amy Irving provides a ray of light in the film’s bleak darkness. Flashbacks to Julie’s childhood mix idyllic images with her father (Michael Gaston) shouting at her and her child self screaming in fear. Julie’s new book is about a “star monster,” who gobbles up stars and leaves the sky empty. Oh, my. Julie’s father shows up again after Julie and Ethan move to a suburban house, and Julie’s father helps paint a room with Julie in a scene that is a physical and emotional mess.
The editing can be confusing, especially the ending, which is set in the present time. Speaking of Plath, perhaps reading her 1963 novel “The Bell Jar,” a classic story of a brilliant and suicidal young woman, might be a better use of one’s time.
(“A Mouthful of Air” contains profanity.)