Quite why director Pat O'Connor would want to remake Circle Of Friends all over again (but set it in small-town Illinois) is a bit of a mystery. Yet that's precisely what Inventing The Abbotts is. It's set in the same year (1957), has the same problems (sex and no sex), the same set-up (narration by a grown-up nostalging over teenage years) and the same laid-back quaintness.
Of course, there's more sex this time. Given that the movie has no car chases or gunfights, there had to be something to spice it up a bit. This is a film about sexual liberation and the '50s, and the first of Jacey's conquests, Jennifer Connelly's Eleanour, is an ""I'll show you my knickers for a dollar"" wildcat who embodies the imminent '60s rebellion against the chaste ways of the past. ""What have you been doing?"" asks her father when he discovers her all dishevelled and spent. ""Fucking Jacey"" is her short, sweet answer.
But it's Tyler and Phoenix who will grab the plaudits. The latter is tricky to gauge at first, but turns out to have a subtle comic talent, playing the slightly gormless, girl-shy type with style - a true descendant of Matt Dillon. Tyler's skill is an ability to blend frumpy plainness and scene-stealing glamour, a vital technique when you're cast as the girl-next-door who always gets the guy. Slightly gawky, she's not exactly the ultimate beauty, but this hippy-chick goddess is still irresistibly watchable.
This time it's American puritanism, not Catholic guilt, that's plaguing the sex-hungry kids, but there's the same moral here as in Circle of Friends: that it's only the good kids who take it slow who find love in the end. Inventing The Abbotts boasts some good performances, a mildly funny script and some classy fake sideburns. It's a bit like a black and white Sunday afternoon weepy. But in colour. Obviously.
Attempting to conjure up '50s America in the same way that he recreated sleepy '50s Ireland in Circle Of Friends, O'Connor gives us a touching film about smalltown rivalries. It's slow, charming and about nothing else but itself. Ideal date-movie material.
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