Inventing the Abbotts

It’s hard to know what to say about “Inventing the Abbotts.”

Pat O’Connor’s 1997 film begins with two families; the Abbotts are the wealthy ones, the family that earns the envy and desire of all the other people in town. Lloyd Abbott, the patriarch, came up from nothing to marry a wealthy woman, and they had three daughters: Alice (Joanna Going), Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) and Pam (Liv Tyler). Lloyd insists on showing them off to the neighbor kids who can’t ever be them or have them at every opportunity, and the girls, for one reason or another, just go along with it.

The Holts are the other family, two brothers and their widowed mother. Jacey (Billy Crudup) is the oldest and makes no secret of the fact that he is completely obsessed with getting into the Abbott family. It’s not love, but he pursues Eleanor with a fiery passion and then moves on when she is unavailable. Doug (Joaquin Phoenix) is a bit shy, a bit more withdrawn, and while he has feelings for Pam, he’s seen what an obsession with that family can do and stays away from her when he can. Most of the time, that fails.

There’s some more backstory, and some more interpersonal conflicts, but that’s the majority of the film. The boys pine, the girls remain aloof and all the while some great mystery hangs in the background, always out of reach.

It’s hard to give an opinion here because I liked the story, but I didn’t love it. I appreciated that the soapy route I predicted did not come to pass, but I had some issues with the lack of characterization of any of the female characters. I thought Phoenix overdid the sincere small-town boy at parts, and I felt that Tyler under-sold her poor-little-rich-girl act, but most the time they balanced each other out. I thought some third-act revelations were lame, but I thought others worked.

“Inventing the Abbotts” is a nice enough movie, with a good enough story, and a good enough cast, but it’s nothing notable.

“Inventing the Abbotts” (1997)

Directed by Pat O’Connor

Written by Ken Hixon

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix (Doug Holt)

Billy Crudup (Jacey Holt)

Liv Tyler (Pamela Abbott)