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20th Century Fox presents
Inventing the Abbotts (1996)

"My mother once told me that if the Abbotts didn't exist, my brother would've had to invent them."
- Narrator (Michael Keaton)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: April 01, 2001

Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Liv Tyler, Billy Crudup
Other Stars: Jennifer Connelly, Joanna Going, Will Patton, Kathy Baker
Director: Pat O'Conner

Manufacturer: CMCA
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality and language
Run Time: 01h:46m:54s
Release Date: March 13, 2001
UPC: 024543012153
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
C- CB+B- D

DVD Review

Inventing the Abbotts feels as old-fashioned as its 1950s setting. The plot revolves around the Abbotts, the type of bigwig family that can only exist in a small town, where so much rests on what family you come from. Jacey Holt (Billy Crudup) certainly isn't happy with his lot in life. He obsesses over the three beautiful Abbotts girls, as if by conquering them sexually he will overcome his lesser social standing. His brother Doug (Joaquin Pheonix) also finds himself drawn to the girls (in love with one, in lust with another), but he doesn't quite share his brother's aptitude with the opposite sex.

The Abbott girls are Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly), Alice (Joanna Going), and Pam (Liv Tyler), but their names aren't really important. What matters, since this is truly the story of the Holt brothers and their inability to escape a past controversy involving the girls' father, Lloyd (Will Patton) and their mother (Kathy Baker), is that each girl fits into a certain stereotype. Eleanor is the bad girl. Alice marries because she gets pregnant, then divorces. Pam is the invisible one. One sister is "good," one is "bad," she just is. Each, in turn, is a target for Jacey as he tries to make sense out of his feelings towards the family.

The most notable aspect of this film is, sadly, not the story. The plot not only occurs in the '50s, it feels like it was filmed there. Subtract the nudity and some of the blue language, and Inventing the Abbotts is nothing more than a coming-of-age story with '50s values of repressed sexuality and social inequality. Of course, covering old ground doesn't necessarily make a film bad, just unoriginal. Unfortunately, Inventing the Abbotts also suffers from a trite script (complete with plodding voiceover) and poor dramatic development. Director O'Conner (Circle of Friends) seems to have trouble isolating and presenting what dramatic tension is in the story. Instead, the film feels like a loosely connected series of scenes that amble their way towards a predictable conclusion.

Fortunately, the casting was so successful that many of the problems with the script disappear as the fine young actors shine through. Joaquin Phoenix, pre- Gladiator, establishes himself as an actor worth watching. Liv Tyler, for once, manages to pull off a character and seem believable. And of course, Jennifer Connelly once again illustrates why she is one of the most beautiful and talented actors alive, injecting her small portion of the film with its only real tension. Also worthy of note is Kathy Baker as the boys' mother. She isn't given a lot to do, but much of the plot hinges on the audience sympathy for her character, and she comes off as extremely loveable, in a mom sort of way.

Inventing the Abbotts has a lot going for it, but in the end, it just can't overcome a rather dull screenplay.

Rating for Style: C-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox has recently done some very nice work with their catalogue titles. Inventing the Abbotts likewise looks very good. Colors appear rich and natural. Black level is excellent, with no pixelization showing in the night scenes. Edge-enhancement, over-contrast, and aliasing are nowhere to be found. Fine detail is, for the most part, very good, but one or two scenes look a bit soft or hazy. However, I suspect this was more of a stylistic technique rather than an issue with the transfer.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Even considering that Inventing the Abbotts isn't the type of film that demands surround-sound, I still found this mix to be a bit on the dull side. The 2.0 and 5.1 tracks are basically indistinguishable, and neither features much in the way of surround activity. Dialogue is well represented, but it sounds a bit flat and unnatural. The score is mixed between the front mains and only rarely ventures into the surrounds (for when composer Michael Kamen wanted to get really sappy and overbearing). The only other surround action occurs during a (very brief) rainstorm, which also sounds very dull and artificial. The film certainly doesn't demand an active mix, but it wouldn't been nice to see a more inventive use of the channels.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 Other Trailer(s) featuring Titus, Grand Canyon, Smilla's Sense of Snow, Paradise Road, The Ice Storm
1 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:39m:20s

Extras Review: Extras on this disc fail to stray from the realm of promotion. Aside from the expected theatrical trailer is a brief, 5-minute EPK which barely warrents a look (especially if you've seen the trailer, which makes up about half the running time).

Also included is the now standard Fox Flix menu, with a bevy of trailers, accessible above.

Extras Grade: D


Final Comments

Inventing the Abbotts establishes a beautiful period/1950s feel and features a strong, likeable cast. Unfortunately, the narrative is clumsy and the characters are on the shallow side. I think there is a good movie in here somewhere, but the plodding storyline fails to illicit much of a response. Also, big minus for dropping Jennifer Connelly, the most interesting and beautiful of the Abbotts, from the film after 20 minutes.


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