Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Invisible Circus (2001)

Far better than a film which sees Cameron Diaz join the Baader Meinhof gang has a credible right to be, The Invisible Circus is adapted from a novel by Jennifer Egan by writer/director Adam Brooks and maintains its novel-like structure which is probably why, for some film-goers, the film failed to resonate.

It's certainly much better than its reputation and, though I was only really watching for Christopher Eccleston, I was pleasantly surprised by this. It's relatively slight, bot in terms of story and of running time (just 90 minutes) but that at least means it doesn't outstay its welcome and it's all rather effectively touching.

The film centres on Jordana Brewster's Phoebe. It's 1977 and she is 18 years old in 1976. In the summer of 1969, her sister Faith went to Europe with her English boyfriend 'Wolf' and never came back. The story was that Faith (Cameron Diaz) had killed herself in Portugal, but Phoebe has always been sceptical, refusing to believe her older sister would have committed suicide and left her and her mother heartbroken. After a heart-to-heart with said mother (Blythe Danner), Phoebe sets off to Europe, following in Faith's footsteps in an attempt to solve the mystery of her sister's fate once and for all.

Essentially the film has two stories; Phoebe's, and Faith's - which is told via a flashback device. Phoebe heads first to Amsterdam (where she is given acid for the first time, just to remind us this is a film about the '60s and '70s I guess) and then on to Paris where she finds Wolf, now going by his real name of Christopher; settled, working and engaged to a French woman. He tells her all he can, how he and Faith were involved in radical 1960s politics and how Faith seemed increasingly driven into dangerous, wild behaviour by the death of her father. The father is shown fleetingly in another flashback played by Patrick Bergin, in what is the narrative's most weakest strand. A thwarted artist, the father had to work for a giant corporation to provide for his family and, when he died of leukemia, Faith gets it into her head that his employers slowly poisoned him because of his artistic spirit. This really needed to be fleshed out an awful lot more to provide Faith with motivation for what depths she would later succumb to during her European odyssey (or at least have characters challenge her 'conspiracy-theory' belief), but it's also frustrating that Phoebe's own belief that her dad always liked Faith more than both herself and her mother (he only ever painted Faith) is also ignored when she proceeds with her own quest. 

Of course it soon becomes clear that Wolf/Christopher knows more than he's letting on. Slowly, more and more revelations are brought out into the open as both he and Phoebe make their way to Portugal and the spot where Faith took her own life. Satisfyingly, my first instincts regarding the reasons for his slow drip-fed delivery of information - that he's hiding something that will prove him guilty - was proven somewhat wrong and it's actually rather nice to see Eccleston playing what is essentially a romantic lead in a Hollywood movie yet keeping his usual unorthodox, distinctly British style, even when that romance transcends to both sisters. 

Indeed, the acting overall isn't too bad. It's easy to forget that Diaz can act when required and even managed to do so between the mindless action and sauce of the Charlie's Angels movies. She captures the frustrating mystique that her character requires relatively well and is at least depicted as a deeply incompetent political activist, because anything else may have been too much of a stretch. Jordana Brewster - an actress I'm completely unfamiliar with, having never seen any of the Fast and Furious films - is also effective as a suitably wide-eyed yet determined guide for this rites of passage journey to the truth.

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