Amanda Seyfried Is Heartbreaking in A Mouthful of Air, a Harrowing Story About Postpartum Depression
The movies that are hardest to watch for emotional or personal reasons—those that walk right up to anguish and look it straight in the eye—are also the ones that are almost impossible to get made. It’s a small miracle that writer-director Amy Koppelman’s A Mouthful of Air—which Koppelman adapted from her novel of the same name—exists at all. Amanda Seyfried plays Julie, a young New York City mother and children’s book author who, in the early moments of the movie, attempts suicide. It is too hard for her to deal with the postpartum depression and she has been suffering from it since birth. Ethan Wittrock (her husband), is supportive, but bewildered. No one around Julie seems to know how to help, because no matter how deeply they care for her, they really can’t.
That’s a lot of intensity for a movie to carry, and Koppelman—making her debut as a director—approaches the task with sensitivity and discernment. (The suicide scene is a case in point—it’s so discreetly shot that the event becomes harrowing only in retrospect.) That’s essential, because postpartum depression—a subject no one wants to talk about, often least of all the people suffering from it—is infinitely complex and manifests itself in myriad, insidious ways. The problem, maybe, is that movies—or any kind of narrative—can’t help searching for answers, and There’s a lot of air in the world.This is not an exception. The film suggests that Julie’s tendency toward depression was somehow inherited from her troubled and possibly abusive father (Michael Gaston), or perhaps intensified by memories of some childhood trauma. It’s a sort of vague hand-waving in the direction of an explanation that the story doesn’t need. Even more concerning than the possible cause and effects is the possibility that postpartum Depression can seem to appear from nowhere.
However There’s a lot of air in the world. makes it past those potential flaws on the strength of Seyfried’s performance. To look at her face—to watch as her delight in her son shifts almost imperceptibly into a private hell—is enough. Seyfried’s pre-Raphaelite fragility is a ruse; her fearlessness lies beneath the surface, a stealth weapon. She shows us, as Julie, how taking care of her small children, being a wife who is attentive and engaged, and cooking up new ideas are the things that keep her going. Incredibly, we also see glimpses into the passageway that leads her to all she doesn’t care about. It’s easy to see her outside. But, the power of the movie lies in the impossibility.
Read more reviews by Stephanie Zacharek
Another of Koppelman’s novels, I Smile BackAdam Salky made the adaptation a few years back. Sarah Silverman’s performance as a mother and wife struggling with depression was remarkable and often underappreciated. You might also like movies like this one. There’s a lot of air in the world.—stories about humans with real-life problems—are what thinking adults always claim to want. But almost nobody rushes for them. The consolation, maybe, is that they exist so the right people can find them—eventually, if not right away. Movies aren’t service pieces, or instructional briefs, or delivery systems for problem-solving diagnoses. They can’t help you lead a better or healthier life, at least not in any obvious way. But they can help you see into corners of life you’ve been afraid to explore, or deepen your capacity to comprehend suffering that you’ve never experienced yourself. These windows allow you to see the world through their eyes. And that’s as good a reason for a movie to get made as any.
To reach the Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 7417141 or call 800-273-8255 if you think someone is contemplating suicide. For emergencies dial 911, or go to a hospital.