From a Boston reader this morning: “I’ve been seeing advertising for Andy Serkis and Andrew Garfield‘s Breathe (Bleecker Street/Participant, 10.13) and am wondering how it might perform, both commercially and critically, in the wake of David Gordon Green and Jake Gyllenhaal‘s Stronger (Lionsgate/Roadside, 9.22), which will open three weeks earlier. Both are about men, driven by a woman’s love, overcoming great physical challenges and odds against a long, full life. Three factors: (a) close release-date proximity, (b) the commonality of plot, and (c) the Andrew vs. Jake thing. Whaddaya think?”

My response: “Spiritual uplift dramas about average folks slammed by tragedy and misfortune but refusing to accept a grim fate or a curtailed lifespan have, of course, constituted a dramatic genre for the last three decades. Life threw a curve or buried them in suffering but they wouldn’t buckle. Spirit, perseverance, grit. The support of families, wives, co-workers, etc.

Breathe and Stronger are kin of all kinds of films in this realm. Ben Lewin‘s The Sessions, in which the life of polio victim John Hawkes was spiritually opened up by Helen Hunt‘s sex surrogate, is similar to Breathe as they both deal with guys paralyzed from the neck down. The total paralysis enveloping Mathieu Amalric in Julian Schnabel‘s The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (’07) is even more extreme.

Stronger is about real-life Boston bombing victim Jeff Bauman (Gyllenhaal) overcoming the loss of his legs, obviously a less daunting challenge than the one facing Garfield but still a tough haul.

Expand the pain parameters and you could include The King’s Speech (royal stuttering), all kinds of concentration camp dramas (Angelina Jolie‘s relatively recent Unbroken, Robert Young‘s Triumph of the Spirit, Joseph Sargent and Arthur Miller‘s Playing For Time), Jim Sheridan and Daniel Day Lewis‘s My Left Foot (a seminal physical-malady film, released in ’89), innumerable disease-of-the-week TV dramas from the ’80s, etc.

You could source these films all the way back to Dore Schary‘s Sunrise at Campobello (FDR refusing to submit to the ravages of polio) and even Harold Russell‘s struggle to adapt to civilian society in The Best Years of Our Lives. We all know the drill going in.

Garfield doing a polio film so soon after Martin Scorsese‘s Silence, which is mainly about the spirit but also acute suffering, seems to me like an unwise career move. He needed to do a dumb comedy, romcom or thriller, or at least something that didn’t involve oppressive confinement and a profound test of his mettle.

The Gyllenhaal Boston legless thing, especially coming in the wake of Patriots Day and a November 2016 HBO doc about Boston bombing victims adapting and soldiering on through adversity (Marathon: The Patriots Day Bombing), is surely going to strike some as a Boston bombing rehash that’s arriving late in the cycle.

Breathe opening three weeks after Stronger isn’t going to help. If I were Bleecker/Participant I’d open before Stronger, maybe in late August.