Walking into Breathless, I had no idea what I was getting into. Never having fully understood the allure of Gina Gershon and being entirely unfamiliar with its other star, Kelli Giddish, I was admittedly hesitant to spend an hour and a half with them. However, Jesse Baget and Stefania Moscato’s script is filled with such a sick and cynical charm, it is damn near impossible to resist the beguiling womanly wiles of its leading ladies. Because, although Breathless boasts names like Val Kilmer and Ray Liotta, make no mistake. This film belongs to Lorna (Gershon) and Tiny (Giddish).
Breathless is a difficult film to describe as it effortlessly blends elements of the western, the film noir, and the dark comedy. To try to pin this movie down would be fairly pointless, but it could best be described as Thelma & Louise on crack meets Fargo. There’s a fair amount of film noir thrown in for good measure, but nothing that overwhelms the pitch-black humor and the cliché elements of the drama. Before you ask, yes, there are at least three of the obligatory double crosses and countless cases of the overstylized dialogue that one would expect from the most obvious of film noir. Still, for me, that didn’t take away from the twisted good time that Breathless gave me.
Those who don’t like the movie will be quick to cite the dialogue. It ranges from backwoods Southern drawl to lines that only cool-as-a-cucumber Sam Spade should be saying. Furthermore, it dances between the monosyllabic responses of your stereotypical yokel to an unparalleled urbane wit. Normally, these types of inconsistencies would be enough to drive the average viewer wild. But when Baget and Moscato show off their razor-sharp dialogue, it’s too much fun for me to say no. One example of the film’s delight in the devilish is after Lorna has killed her husband and the two friends are attempting to dispose of the body. As she jams his hand into the garbage disposal, she remarks how she’d always been after him to fix the disposal. It’s this kind of macabre humor that showcases the talents of the two screenwriters but, as any screenwriter will tell you, words will only get you so far. You have to find the right actors to deliver them.
Luckily, director Jess Baget found such a pair in Gershon and Giddish. The two have such a unique chemistry that drives the film home. Amidst some of the more hackneyed dialogue or the inconsistencies in characterization, these two women never stop shining. Gershon brings a kind of jaded beauty to her role as disillusioned housewife turned murderess. Kelli Giddish brings some of the much-needed levity as the pretty but clueless best friend. Still, by the end of the film, none of these women are playing the character that they started out as, showing a type of range that is so rare in films these days.
While the script and the acting is paramount to the success of Breathless, I found myself much more enamored with the little things that give it a charm. For instance, with Lorna as a Texas housewife, when it comes time to dispose of the body, she uses the only things she knows how. What follows is a bloodbath involving an electronic turkey carver, a meat thermometer, household lye, a vacuum cleaner and so much more. It’s this type of horrific humor that makes Breathless a success in my mind. Sometimes the film loses track of itself and drifts into dangerously serious territory, but Giddish is always prepared to guide the film back with some cheap laughs, usually at her own expense.
Is Breathless a perfect film? Far from it. But the fact of the matter is, it knows what it is. Sometimes it tries to be more, but ultimately it’s successful in its hybrid of all things genre. As the film goes on and becomes impossibly twisted and deranged, Breathless shows its dark heart. Not as simple as two friends caught up in an accidental shooting, but not as complicated as it could have been, Breathless is an example of the disturbed fun that can be had at the movies.
Breathless will be available on DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack August 14. The only special feature made available at this time is a behind-the-scenes featurette on the making of the film.