Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Inventing The Abbotts (1997)

Firstly, yes I am making a point of watching several Liv Tyler films. It's for Letterboxd and, of course, my own amusement.


Secondly,  how good is that poster? It's both the 90s and 50s all at once!


Inventing the Abbotts is perhaps never going to trouble the upper echelons of anyone's 'favourite movies' list but for what it is, a generic and glossy 1950s set coming of age film, it is done with a consistent polish. Indeed, you could almost believe it was actually made in the period it is set, such is the authenticity in the design, cinematography, make-up, wardrobe and narrative style.



It might not even rank as the best film Liv Tyler has ever been in, but I do feel it's one of her best performances. I don't really buy the criticisms that are often levelled at her; that she's not a good actress, that she's simply a pretty face, a daughter of a someone who only ever plays the same role/herself.  Her depiction of the youngest and nicest of the Abbott girls, Pamela, is one of a delightful hesitation and vulnerability, combined with the occasional awkwardness teenage girls exhibit and an overall 'apple pie' decency that is fitting for the era and the Midwestern locale the story takes place in.



And she does of course look divine.



But Tyler's is just one of a succession of fine character studies from the young and good looking cast at the heart of this film, the finest of which lie with Billy Crudup and Joaquin Phoenix. They play the Holt brothers, two siblings who have grown up in the shadow of the more successful, big fish in a small pond family, the titular Abbotts.  For Crudup, the family inspire a convincing three dimensional mix of both bitter resentment and besotted obsession. As events unfold we see it is his fate to but heads with the shady but smooth patriarch Lloyd Abbott (Will Patton) and try to destroy him via relations with his daughters because of a belief that Abbott cheated his deceased father and the family out of money and success. Meanwhile Phoenix, the younger and more naive brother, is our rather charming boyish guide; the voice over narration is of his character recounting the story of their youth, which inevitably includes his tentative relationship with Tyler's Pamela. 



Also of note is Jennifer Connelly as the middle sister Eleanor Abbott, the self confessed bad girl of the Abbotts. She's like a smouldering ember in each scene she appears in, the threat of fire all too present. Unfortunately, the smoke clears too soon; the narrative means her character has to be written out early on, shipped out of town following an indiscretion with Crudup. 




As good looking and as engaging enough as the film is ultimately one cannot ignore the fact that Inventing The Abbotts is a film that is utterly plot driven and a little predictable. There's very little depth beyond the course of events, leading to several characters on the periphery of the action being little more than ciphers and even characters such as Patton's Lloyd Abbott are barely able to rise above their one-note status as the stories figure to rail against. Even Joanna Going, playing his eldest daughter and essentially the fifth lead in the good looking youthful cast has little to do beyond being Crudup's initial fascination. When you consider such flimsiness, its entirely in keeping with such 1950s movies and stories that Inventing The Abbotts emulates and perhaps to that extent, in singling out the weaknesses inherent, one is also paying the greatest compliment possible to the production.



Beautiful to look at and instantly nostalgic, Inventing The Abbotts passes the time well enough but, despite its good performances, is ultimately perhaps a little too derivative to truly stand out from the crowd.



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