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Film Review: Inventing the Abbotts - The good old days really weren't so easy

Inventing the Abbotts

Directed by Pat O'Connor

Written by Ken Hixon

Starring Liv Tyler, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly,

Joanna Going, Will Patton, Kathy Baker

By Teresa Huang
Staff Reporter

set in the 1950s, Inventing the Abbotts tells the story of three emotional years in the lives of five teenagers in the small town of Haley, Ill. For each of them, their days are filled with ice cream, fist fights, and heartache as their paths cross and their lives are woven together.

The story is told in Wonder Years style through the eyes of Doug Holt, played by Joaquin Phoenix (To Die for). The youngest of the two Holt brothers, Doug gets caught up in his brother Jacey's obsession to gain control over the rich and beautiful daughters of the affluent Lloyd Abbott, the town millionaire played by Will Patton (Fled, The Client). Jacey Holt, played with brute rage by Billy Crudup (Sleepers), blames his family's poverty on an unresolved matter regarding a product patent owned by Lloyd Abbott which Jacey believes is rightfully his late father's, and in revenge he seeks to infiltrate the Abbott family through the daughters.

Liv Tyler (Stealing Beauty, That Thing You Do!), Jennifer Connelly (Mulholland Falls, Labyrinth), and Joanna Going (Wyatt Earp) play the Abbott daughters, each with their own personality, problems, and desires. Alice (Joanna Going) is the good daughter who listens to her father, even when he forces an unhappy marriage on her. Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) is the bad one who manipulates Jacey's attraction to her to break out of her constrained, cookie-cutter lifestyle. Pam (Liv Tyler) is the youngest sister, whose relationship with Doug Holt is constantly upset by the chaos around her.

All five actors turn out fantastic performances in this tale of love and revenge. The chemistry between the youngest characters, Pam and Doug is the best in the film. His bumbling yet sensitive manner complements her down-to-earth innocence perfectly. The scene involving their first kiss is superbly done.

Their romance is sincere and simply cannot be broken by the transgressions of Crudup's character. Joanna Going is effectively delicate in appearance as the weak daughter, while Jennifer Connelly plays the mischievous daughter very well. All the actors give skilled performances as teenagers on screen, acting older than they are in a believable way.

Kathy Baker is suited to her role of school teacher and mother to Doug and Jacey Holt. Her quiet devotion to her emotional children and her late husband are admirable. Will Patton's performance as the rich Lloyd Abbott is also filled with complexities and heart.

Inventing the Abbotts deals with many different themes, including the conflicting desires of rich and poor people to be in someone else's shoes (though not each others' shoes), young love and how fragile it is, and how the affairs of the parents affect their children's lives in a time when "Elvis is hot, gas is cheap, and sex is imaginable." Films set in the 1950s usually try to remind you how simple life was back then, but Inventing the Abbotts actually shows you how simple it wasn't.

This absorbing drama about young love, sexuality, and integrity is excellently cast and well acted. The interactions are effective, the tensions are high, and the ending is heartwarming. Sure to be the sleeper hit of the season, Inventing the Abbotts is the spring's best date movie so far.