Maybe it was the trailers that made me think "Inventing the Abbotts"
was going to be some bit of fluff about teens in the Fifties, an R-rated
"Happy Days". After all, Richie Cunningham (AKA Ron Howard) is
one of the producers. Well, that was before I watched Pat O'Connor work
his magic. If you enjoyed this director's "Circle of Friends",
which gave Minnie Driver her big break, then you'll love the Abbotts. Three
beautiful, wealthy women/girls, and two handsome working-class men/boys
explore identity and love in the 1957 American Midwest. Liv Tyler takes
center stage as the youngest of the Abbott girls who falls for Joaquin Phoenix,
the clunky younger brother. As older brother Jacey Holt, Billy Crudup inflames
the production with his love, envy, and hatred of the Abbotts.
This could easily have turned into "Peyton Place", but it didn't.
When the older generation's secrets provide the undercurrent for the romantic
plot twists, director O'Connor keeps the film focused on the class differences
rather than the potentially melodramatic moments. Will Patton, making a
career of playing hate-able sorts, certainly excels as the father determined
to control his daughters. The wonderful Kathy Bates (from TV's "Picket
Fences") adds immeasurably to the production as the boy's loving mom.
She illuminates a poignancy, understanding, and determination that is rare
for screen moms.
"Inventing the Abbotts" will remind you of the first time you
realized that all things were not as they seemed. It is more than a coming-of-age
film. We're reminded of pre-revolution-America sex; what being a woman
with few options was. No, O'Connor hasn't created a bit of fluff, but a
portrait of a complex time gone by that we may have, mistakenly, mentally
remade into a bit of fluff. Rated R, Twentieth Century Fox.