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film review

Amanda Seyfried and Finn Wittrock in a scene from A Mouthful of Air.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

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  • A Mouthful of Air
  • Written and directed by Amy Koppelman
  • Starring Amanda Seyfried, Finn Wittrock and Paul Giamatti
  • Classification R; 105 minutes
  • Opens in theatres Oct. 29

Critic’s Pick

A Mouthful of Air features an unprecedented moment in cinematic history: a cautionary note, what some may call a trigger warning, placed right at the beginning. “The following film may be upsetting to people with a history of depression and anxiety. Viewer discretion is advised.”

It would be easy to dismiss the tactic – typically used for TV movies-of-the-week or “very special” episodes – as cheap, histrionic or unnecessarily coddling. But, like the rest of director Amy Koppelman’s new drama, this warning feels necessary. A Mouthful of Air is a genuinely upsetting work, and I wouldn’t judge anyone – whether you have a history of mental-health issues or not – from walking away once things get rough.

Focusing on successful New York children’s author Julie (Amanda Seyfried) and her young family, A Mouthful of Air takes a beat to register its narrative and thematic intentions. Is this a character study, a domestic drama, a slightly bent rom-com? Koppelman keeps things compellingly vague until the half-hour mark or so, when it’s clear that this is a serious portrait of depression, specifically one amplified by postpartum life.

Adapting her own 2003 novel, Koppelman keeps things grounded, spare and refreshingly small-scale. Although her screenplay too eagerly jumps around in time, it never forgets that in order for us to care about Julie’s state of mind, we have to care about the stakes of her life, too. Her career, her marriage, her baby boy.

A Mouthful of Air is a serious portrait of depression, specifically one amplified by postpartum life.Courtesy of Sony Pictures

Thematically, the film mines territory similar to Koppelman’s 2008 novel, I Smile Back, which was made into a Sarah Silverman vehicle back in 2015. But whereas director Adam Salky’s adaptation of I Smile Back felt as if it was revelling in the supposed shock of its central character’s suburban-ensconced antics – drugs, affairs, parental recklessness – A Mouthful of Air is more empathetic.

By taking things relatively slow and keeping her cast of supporting characters tight, the film carefully zooms out from Julie’s internal struggle. There is a delicate touch deployed here, and not only with Julie, but those surrounding her. Depression, Koppelman seems to be saying, is not a one-person battle. It can swallow everyone in a victim’s orbit.

Seyfried, who is having a good run playing young anxious mothers (after Netflix’s underrated Things Heard & Seen and last year’s You Should Have Left), brings all of Julie’s pain to the fore in an unfussy, unmannered performance. And Finn Wittrock, also on a tear as the big screen’s ultimate go-to nice guy, ably conveys the stress of loving someone who cannot love themselves.

Consider this review, then, something of a reversal of A Mouthful of Air’s trigger warning. A recommendation, with discretion.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.