Inventing the Abbotts - * *

Bland and flat, Inventing the Abbotts portrays small town life in the 1950s, but works better as a gallery for its young stars. The film focuses on two families in small town Haley, Illinois. The Abbotts are among the town’s wealthiest and most well known citizens. Lloyd Abbott (Will Patton) owns a steel desk manufacturing plant that dominates the town’s economy. He is very protective of his three daughters: Alice (Joanna Going) is the eldest, and has been forced into an unwanted marriage. Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) is the wild child, and Pamela (Liv Tyler) mostly stays out of the way. The Holts aren’t as well off. Helen Holt (Kathy Baker) runs the household after her husband died fifteen years earlier. Her two boys are envious of the Abbotts. The eldest, Jacey (Billy Crudup), bitterly resents the Abbotts (believing Lloyd Abbott cheated his father out of a fortune), and makes it his goal to seduce Lloyd’s daughters. Doug (Joaquin Phoenix), who narrates the story, doesn’t feel quite as strongly, but nevertheless finds himself attracted to the Abbotts. The film traces the two families over about four years, focusing primarily on the kids and their lives. What’s wrong with Inventing the Abbotts is apparent at the outset in its narration. It’s unclear whether the filmmakers were attempting for a Wonder Years feel, or if they felt the script needed clarification, but the narration is repetitive and obvious. It bludgeons you with facts that a better screenplay could have presented with subtlety. Similarly, the film tries to hit you over the head, but only accomplishes attracting attention to its own shallowness. The film doesn’t seem to have any deeper meaning than to showcase it’s gallery of young actors, and it doesn’t do them justice. With the most screen time, Joaquin Phoenix appears as mostly an enigma, not as clearly drawn as Jacey. The overhyped Liv Tyler turns in yet another flat, wooden performance. There’s no chemistry between these two actors, and it shows. Slightly better off, but with much less screen time, is Jennifer Connelly, who enlivens the film during her few brief scenes. And the film could use some livening up, sluggishly drawing out its under two hour running time. Kathy Baker and Will Patton do good supporting work, but the rest of the actors are rather lifeless. As is the movie, for that matter. Fans of the young stars will enjoy the chance to see them together, but will leave wishing it was in a better film.

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