The Invisible Circus

on February 02, 2001 by Michael Tunison
   Adapted from Jennifer Egan's novel, "The Invisible Circus" follows a young woman's quest to find out about the death of her sister in the revolutionary counterculture of the early '70s. This promising setup opens the door to some intriguing ideas about the perils of challenging the establishment in any era, but Canadian writer-director Adam Brooks' slow-paced screen adaptation fails to draw much dramatic tension out of what follows.

   In the main plotline, set in 1977, all-American 18-year-old Phoebe (Jordana Brewster) is so haunted by the incomplete reports of her sister Faith's suicide in Portugal six years earlier that she defies her concerned mother ("Meet the Parents'" Blythe Danner) and heads off to Europe to investigate. In Paris, Faith's onetime boyfriend Wolf (Christopher Eccleston) tells what he knows--or does he? Intercut with Phoebe's adventure is a parallel storyline revealing how the restless seeker Faith (Cameron Diaz) got involved with a group of violent European radicals bent on changing the status quo by any means necessary.

   From the start, the way the film doles out conveniently small chunks of Faith's story (Phoebe following a stack of her sister's postcards to different European cities, Wolf's bit-by-bit account of what happened six years earlier) feels pretty artificial. And after all the build-up, the truth about Faith's fate is something a letdown. Brewster ("The Faculty") and the always-convincing Eccleston ("Elizabeth") provide a solid emotional foundation for the main story, but they can't generate sizzle that isn't in the script. "Charlie's Angel" star Diaz's vivacious presence makes her a natural choice for Faith, though she has a hard time maintaining believability in the melodramatic later flashbacks. Flabby editing and a curious lack of period music contribute to the low energy level that keeps "The Invisible Circus" from fulfilling the potential of its interesting characters and theme.    Starring Jordana Brewster, Christopher Eccleston, Cameron Diaz, Blythe Danner and Patrick Bergin. Directed and written by Adam Brooks. Produced by Julia Chasman and Nick Wechsler. A Fine Line release. Drama. Rated R for sexuality, language and drug content. Running time: 92 min.

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