April 27, 1997 -- "Inventing the Abbotts" is one of those films that seems to be all dressed up with nowhere to go.
It's a well-intentioned film about growing up and falling in love in the 1950s, but it seems to spin its wheels on a slick surface of emotionlessness. Even in the love scenes, the emotions just didn't ring true.
There didn't seem to be any chemistry between the main character, Doug Holt (Joaquin Phoenix) and Pamela Abbott (Liv Tyler), even though the story was built around them. There was some heat between Jacey Holt (Billy Crudup) and Eleanor Abbott (Jennifer Connelly), but Eleanor gets tossed out of the story too quickly.
The only character that seemed true to life was the boys' mother, Helen Holt (Kathy Baker). Baker does a good job with a fairly thankless role as the selfless mother who is very much misunderstood by one of her sons.
It seemed like just when the story was picking up some steam and getting interesting, the screen would fade to black and we'd go to the next scene. The story, directed by Pat O'Connor, seemed very disjointed and not well edited (by Ray Lovejoy).
Although the sets, clothes and music all looked like the 1950s, the casual attitudes toward sex, beer and frequent use of the F word seem a lot more like 1997 Hollywood than the Midwest in the repressed and conformist period of the 1950s. But even with the sex and a couple of fights, the story seemed emotionally flat, disconnected.
Still, it is hard not to like the young actors in this film, particularly Phoenix and Liv Tyler. Tyler has a real screen presence and a winning personality. You find yourself rooting for her, the same way you feel like rooting for Sandra Bullock, regardless of what's going on in the rest of the film. Because of them, and the great production design by Gary Frutkoff, this one gets a C.
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