Director: Pat O’Connor
Producing team Ron Howard and Brian Grazer collaborated with Irish director Pat O’Connor, fresh off his hit Circle of Friends, on this cinematic adaptation of Sue Miller’s short story, updated for the screen by writer Ken Hixon. While using a similar time period of the 1950’s and a coming-of-age theme that helped launch his career with the Irish Circle of Friends, Inventing the Abbotts is a quintessentially American story of rich man vs. poor man and falling in love with those from the wrong side of the tracks. Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup head up an all-star cast as the poor Holt brothers who live with their hardworking widowed mother in late 50’s Illinois. Both brothers are drawn to the glittering world of wealth and privilege just outside their grasp, especially in the form of the three very beautiful but beguiling and wealthy Abbott sisters—the good daughter Alice (Joanna Going), the rebellious Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly), and Liv Tyler as Pam, the youngest girl who tells Phoenix that she just “gets off the hook” in comparison. While Crudup’s Jacy seems determined to seduce the girls as an act of familial revenge, the film recalls the superior films of the era such as Sirk women’s weepies, Kazan’s Splendor in the Grass and the legendary Peyton Place and while Abbotts is something of a grand soap opera, the likable and earnest young cast (most notably the two brothers who have the most screen time and help drive viewer interest and sympathy) keeps you riveted, along with a helpful narration by an uncredited Michael Keaton. While it won’t stay with you as much as the aforementioned movies of that era, for fans of Phoenix, Crudup, and Connelly, it’s a fascinating film to study in witnessing the evolution of their great talents.