September 13, 2008
Inventing the Abbotts
Continuing on the Jennifer Connelly film list, I rented Inventing the Abbotts; firstly because I love period films (uhh... the music? the dialogue? the clothes?!), and secondly because I love Joaquin Phoenix. Little did I know that Ms. Connelly was not a central character (she gracefully exits the film halfway through and makes a brief appearance near the end), so I guess this isn't "technically" a Jennifer Connelly film, but no matter.
Inventing the Abbotts is about so many different and complex emotions and situations that it's hard to categorize it as a film about " __ ".
It could be about Doug's (Joaquin Phoenix) semi-worship/ semi-disgust of his older brother, Jacey (played, phenomenally, by Billy Crudup). It could be about Jacey's unhealthy obsession with his mother's fidelity 20 years prior or how his vengefulness manifests itself as a sort of sexual predatorism. It could be about how Doug doesn't want to be like his family in the same way that his neighbor Pam (Liv Tyler) doesn't want to be like hers or how it's hard for them to recognize that desire in each other. It's hard to summarize because it's about all of those things and more. Almost to the point where I started to wish they'd found a way to cut some of it out, expand on certain things and compress others. You start to get into a story line and then suddenly the whole tone of the movie just changes.
In short, this is a coming of age story. Doug and Jacey Holt are two brothers, the sons of a single mom, Helen (Kathy Baker=Brilliant!) whose husband died when they were kids. As the story goes, their father drove his car across a frozen lake (because of a bet he had with a coworker, Lloyd Abbott) and his car crashed through the ice. After the accident, Lloyd would come by to see his widow, Helen, after work and... well, people got to talking. Including Lloyd's wife. Jacey grew up thinking that his mom had had an affair and that seems to be where all of his anger and vengefulness stems from. In Doug's words, Jacey started out wanting Eleanor Abbott, but he ended up trying to destroy their whole way of life.
Across town from the Holts, the Abbotts aren't exactly the perfect family that everyone assumes they are. As Pam explains at the beginning, "Alice is the good daughter, Eleanor is the bad one, and I'm the one who just sorta gets off the hook". Of all of his daughters, Eleanor (Connelly) is the one that Lloyd Abbott has the most trouble with (at least during her teenage years). She sees the tremendous influence that her father has on everyone and doesn't want to be just another pawn, so she rebels. And the more he tries to control her, the more outrageous her behavior becomes. Unfortunately. So, since her dad doesn't want her to, she starts seeing Jacey Holt.
And after Eleanor gets a little too frisky with Jacey, the parentals decide it's time to send her away. That's all anyone ever gets to find out - that she went "away". She just disappears one day. But people have their theories. Personally, I felt that it was just bizarre how Pam acted when Doug asked her about Eleanor... she always replies "she's not here" or "she's out right now", but it's really obvious that she doesn't live in the same house, or even the same state, anymore. She could've been pregnant, she could've just been sent to live with relatives, she could've gone to some sort of private school... I guess we'll never know.
Running sort of parallel with the Jacey/Eleanor/Lloyd Abbott story is the Doug/Pam story, which, frankly, is such a relief from the drama of the Abbotts.
What I ended up loving about Pam is that she is just so not an Abbott. She's not deceptive, she's not selfish, she's not crazy.
Well, that and the fact that she and Doug are so cute together.
The strongest point of this film is definitely the the actors. They are really great, really solid. But, when I think about the movie as a whole I still feel a little shorted. There were just too many different stories... Jacey is dating Eleanor (who has major daddy problems, which the film never really explores), she leaves, Jacey starts seeing Alice (who has major husband problems, which the film never really explores), but her parents put a stop to the relationship, and in his final act of revenge Jacey sleeps with Pam (whom Doug has been in love with for a while, which the film does explore) which destroys the relationship he has with his brother...
See? Just... too much. And the main story is supposed to be about Doug and Pam anyways...
One thing I will say, though - Pam and Doug say some really funny lines to each other... or maybe it's more about the delivery.
There's a scene where when Pam finds out about Jacey and Alice she runs out of Doug's house. He asks her what's wrong and she says something along the lines of, "You don't know Alice! - she's just like my mom, they get hurt so easily... they're like turtles without shells!"