Directing debut Amy Koppelman filmed in 2021 her own book on the causes and clinical manifestations of postpartum depression. “A Mouthful of Air” is a social project in many respects. It directly appeals to those who suffer from a disease that was previously almost undiagnosed. Women who have given birth alone are left with responsibility for the child, and sometimes the fear of screwing up like a mother can turn life into paranoia.
The artistic merit of the film is provided by excellent actors, especially Amanda Seyfried – a versatile star who looks good in Hollywood films and auteur cinema.
What is ‘A Mouthful of Air’ about?
The subtle depression drama A Mouthful of Air puts forward more weighty ideas about mental illness and suicidal thoughts than its episodic narrative can accommodate. Written and directed by Amy Koppelman. Her distracting, careful exploration of the heroine’s character hints at, but never truly delves into, the social isolation and emotional instability of Julie (Amanda Seyfried), a children’s story writer who is withdrawn and separated from her loved ones after her suicide attempt.
The characters are often frank about their feelings, but the scenes change quickly, which does not give the audience a good understanding of the essence of Julie’s experiences. The story was originally conceived as a contrast to the cliché of mental illness. A Mouthful of Air invites viewers to judge for themselves without giving them a trivial sense or revealing details about how Julie feels.
The film is mainly about Julie’s struggle to be heard and understood by her loved ones and caregivers. She struggles to live up to the impassive expectations of her husband Ethan (Finn Wittrock) and mother Bobby (Amy Irving). Bobby wants to talk to his daughter about his estranged husband Ron and his mental illness (Michael Gaston), while Ethan reflects on his and Julie’s move from their Manhattan apartment to a country house.
Julie avoids the antidepressants prescribed to her by the good-natured Dr. Sylvester (Paul Giamatti). While preparing to write her next collection of children’s stories, Julie is also forced to take care of her young son, Teddy, while already pregnant with her next child.
Many of Julie’s emotions remain unspoken. Her words are often interrupted by loved ones or reduce the essence of conversations to mundane questions like: “What shade of pink should I choose for a newborn’s bedroom?” or “Won’t having a pink bedroom give Julie’s second child (a girl) a complex about her gender?” Julie tolerates the general disdain for herself, especially in conversations with Ethan, as well as in conversations with gynecologist Saltzman (Josh Hamilton).
The banality of these scenes sometimes makes the film seem dramatically contrived and narratively flat. Julie’s first conversation with Dr. Saltzman revolves around an exchange of ideas or feelings. The gynecologist talks to her about medications, about Teddy’s birthday party, about the gender of her second child. Dr. Saltzman asks her, “How do antidepressants work for you?” She replies, “It’s like I was walking through a black and white world, and only now I’m starting to see colors again.” Such a palpable movement back and forth seems realistic, but in general it does not lead to delight.
The meaning of the film “A Mouthful of Air”
“A Mouthful of Air” is felt by the audience as a restrained expression of grievances. However, the action takes place in a neutral space, without obviously hurting other people’s feelings. The meaning subconsciously lies in a kind of stagnation. Julie is unceremoniously confronted by her sister-in-law Lucy (Jennifer Carpenter), against Ethan’s wishes, insisting on scolding Julie, telling her how selfish she has been, given everything Ethan does for her and their family. This scene ends with a warm but hesitant gesture – Lucy and Julie hug each other. And just something.
This moment is one of many. For example, when Dr. Sylvester advises Julie not to stop taking antidepressants. He tells her that “you can be strong like Hercules himself, but if you fall into the pool and you can’t swim, you will drown.” She tells him, “I can swim.” That’s all – this is the climax of the scene.
Even the most important, most emotional moments seem banal in this context. For example, when Ron and Julie are momentarily distracted while he is painting her second child’s bedroom, or when, in an earlier scene, she thinks about hurting herself before actually doing it. She is shown with a knife in her hands and then cries in close-up. Her son Teddy is watching Sesame Street on TV in the other room. The viewer is invited to come to their own conclusions against the backdrop of an extremely sad line from the song – “I don’t want to live on the moon.”
Explanation of the ending of the film “A Mouthful of Air”
The creators of A Mouthful of Air spend too much time defining the boundaries of their characters. As a result, the viewer is forced to fill in the most significant gaps in Julie’s story. The drama sometimes treats motherhood and suicidal depression with care and delicacy, but still, there are few scenes in the movie of sufficient emotional depth.
Julie’s sense of responsibility for her own children at Koppelman loses the fight to personal egoism. The heroine, as a creative person, managed to create only a bright book with an instructive and motivating tale. The film turns into a kind of reflection on the fact that it is extremely difficult to argue with the chemistry of the brain. In this project, rational decisions face transcendental problems. As a result, the director does not get a beautiful ending.