Inventing the Abbotts

Elvis may be dead for twenty years, but the music still lives on. Another rites- of-passage film is exactly what we were missing in this day and age. (I can hardly wait for everyone to finally grow up.) This time around we find ourselves in the 1950's and becoming involved with the rich Abbotts and the poor Holts. Of course, when rich and poor are neighbors, you can bet that we're dealing with the "class struggle - American style". For those who were not yet around to experience the 50's (which is usually the case with the group attracted nowadays by rites-of-passage films) it may come as a surprise that sex was an issue even before they were born.

Director Pat O'Connor says, "This film is about issues that continue in every generation -- all of the fundamental relationships of life. It's about a boy from one family and a girl from another. It's about the brothers, it's about a mother and her sons, a father and his daughters. It's also about how the past impinges on the present and how misunderstanding the past can damage a person." Yep, folks, it's a rites-of-passage film.

The Abbotts are raising their luxurious tent for another party as we enter the scene. Pamela Abbott (Liv Tyler) gives us the biggest hint about her family when she reveals that "Alice (Joanna Going) is the good one, Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) is the bad one, and I'm the one who gets off the hook." This is the biggest hint we are to receive about familial inter-relationships until a secret is revealed later in the film. Most sympathetic male child in the Holt camp (and close friend of Pamela) is Doug (Joaquin Phoenix). His brother Jacey (Billy Cruddup) suffers from the envy and jealousy of the undeserving poor, heightened by the inability to get the girl of his greedy dreams. Jacey is also motivated by the belief that Mr. Abbott (Will Patton) has, in the past, practically stolen the patent from his mother (Kathy Baker) that created his fortune.

As films in this genre go, this one is superior in quality. Intelligent acting by a talented cast, with notable performances by Tyler, Phoenix, Crudup, and Baker, with a period set by production designer Gary Frutkoff, costumes by Aggie Guerard Rodgers, and images neatly framed by DP Kenneth MacMillan help create a believable atmosphere.

Although producer Janet Meyens likes to draw parallels to films such as "Splendor in the Grass," "Rebel Without a Cause," and "The Last Picture Show," and "Carnal Knowledge(?)," this film seems to lack the impact necessary to create a classic. Not to worry, Janet, the target audience probably hasn't seen any of the above, anyway.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett