I love movies like this. But, sad to say, I didn't love this movie. I hoped I would, but one clunker after another kept accumulating—a hackneyed character here, a stupid line of dialogue there—until it was sounding like a sneaker in a dryer.
That's too bad, because this format has been the foundation of some terrific, thought-provoking films. You take a sizeable number of characters, most of whom have never met, and set their stories in motion. As the multiple plots unfold, each character is being drawn closer to the center, where a resolution awaits that, in the best of these films, can be simultaneously unexpected and inevitable.
Let's coin a term and call them "drawstring" movies, a subset of the genre known as "ensemble" films. Among the best examples are Robert Altman's Nashville (1976) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Magnolia (1999), but even those that fall shorter, like Love Actually (2003) or Grand Canyon (1991), can still tantalize and endear, because the format itself provides such rich possibilities.
Some drawstring films have truly sprawling casts—in Nashville there are 24 main characters—but The Air I Breathe proposes something more tidy. There are four main characters, and they bear the names Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love. These represent what is termed a "Chinese proverb," that these are the basic four emotions of life. (Seems a bit truncated for a proverb, doesn't it? I'd call it a list.)
As each character is introduced, the emotion he or she represents appears onscreen, though what we're looking at may seem contradictory. For example, the film begins with a shot of Forest Whitaker slumped against a wall, sobbing, holding a gun; then the word "Happiness" flashes onscreen. He tells ...1