Inventing The Abbotts

on April 04, 1997 by Ed Scheid
   It's 1957; the Abbotts are the richest family in a small Illinois town and have three beautiful daughters. Jacey ("Sleepers'" Billy Crudup) and Doug Holt ("To Die For's" Joaquin Phoenix) are much lower on the social scale; they live with their widowed mother ("Article 99's" Kathy Baker), a teacher. Period detailing in costuming and settings sharply contrast the lives of the Holt and Abbott families, and this re-creation of the repressive atmosphere of that era is far more successful than is Ken Hixon's screenplay (based on a story by Sue Miller).
   Jacey is obsessed with the Abbotts because he believes that the girls' strict father (Will Patton) became rich from a patent of the Holts' dead father. He plans to get some of the Abbott money by becoming involved with Eleanor ("Mulholland Falls'" Jennifer Connelly), the uninhibited middle daughter, and later with Alice ("Wyatt Earp's" Joanna Going), the oldest daughter who has separated from her husband. As the brothers move from high school to college, Doug is in awe of the elder Jacey's success with women. He is uncomfortable attending the lavish Abbott parties and is slow to realize that Pam ("Stealing Beauty's" Liv Tyler), the youngest Abbott, is in love with him. But he eventually falls for her, even as Pam remains cautious, afraid of duplicating her sisters' mistakes.
   The young actors all give strong performances as the troubled Holt and Abbott offspring. Crudup is particularly impressive as the bitter and manipulative Jacey. As in "Stealing Beauty," Tyler's youthful exuberance is captivating, and Patton and Baker manage to bring some personality to their one-dimensional parental figures. Even though director Pat O'Connor ("Circle of Friends") has given this film a very slow pace, it still manages to include just about every romantic movie cliche--separation, reunion, seduction, confrontation, revelation--with most scenes ending just as predictably.    Starring Liv Tyler, Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly and Joanna Going. Directed by Pat O'Connor. Written by Ken Hixon. Produced by Ron Howard, Brian Grazer and Janet Myers. A Fox release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality and language. Running time: 105 min.
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