Movie Review

Inventing the Abbotts

When you want it all but can't have it, there's only one way to handle life...invent it.
Inventing the Abbotts Movie Poster

US Release Date: 04-04-1997

Directed by: Pat OConnor


  • Liv Tyler
  • Pamela Abbott
  • Joaquin Phoenix
  • Doug Holt
  • Billy Crudup
  • John Charles 'Jacey' Holt
  • Jennifer Connelly
  • Eleanor Abbott
  • Joanna Going
  • Alice Abbott
  • Barbara Williams
  • Joan Abbott
  • Will Patton
  • Lloyd Abbott
  • Kathy Baker
  • Helen Holt
Average Stars:
Reviewed on: October 12th, 2004
Jennifer Connelly and Billy Crudup in Inventing the Abbotts.

Jennifer Connelly and Billy Crudup in Inventing the Abbotts.

With such a good looking and talented cast, Inventing the Abbotts should have been a bon fire of passion and sexual tension. It manages a couple of sparks but for the most part it is just a bunch of cold ashes.

Doug and John (JC) Holt are middle class brothers in the late 1950s. They are completely fascinated by the rich Abbott sisters Alice, Eleanor and Pam. Their parents are connected by secrets that turn out to be less than exciting. The movie is narrated, through voice over, by Doug as an adult. Michael Keaton supplies the voice in an uncredited role.

Doug (Phoenix) and Pam (Tyler) like each other, but as the "virgins" in the group they do little more than act like friends. Their sexual chemistry amounts to little more than sibling affection. The movie spends far too much time on them and too little time on JC and Eleanor.

JC (Crudup) and Eleanor (Connelly) each use sex as a weapon. JC uses it as revenge and Eleanor uses it to piss off her father. In the best scene in the movie, Eleanor's father catches the couple walking to JC's car in the middle of the night, after having sex. Eleanor's father asks her "What are you doing out here?" Eleanor smugly replies, "Fucking JC." and then, so her father can see, proceeds to grab JC's crotch.

Shortly thereafter, Eleanor disappears from the movie. Which is too bad. Jennifer Connelly is the best thing about this movie. She and Crudup are the only couple in this movie that generate any heat.

The title of the movie refers to the Abbotts and their history with the Holts. It is what drives JC to distraction. He hates the Abbotts and gets back at them by having sex with the daughters. His character is the most fascinating and certainly the most entertaining. His feelings toward the Abbotts are his motivation in life, or as the narrator says; "If the Abbotts hadn't existed, John would've invented them."

At nearly two hours, this teen soap opera drags. Doug and Pam get most of the screen time. Their entire relationship is about unrequited love. They spend lots of time together avoiding how they actually feel. It's cute for a couple of scenes but becomes old and boring after the first half hour. The plot should have centered on JC and Eleanor. They have no problem expressing their feelings. Even if they are a bit warped.

Reviewed on: July 29th, 2005
Jennifer Connelly in Inventing the Abbotts.

Jennifer Connelly in Inventing the Abbotts.

Eric is right. The movie should definitely have featured more of Jennifer Connelly's character, Eleanor. Whenever she's on the screen the movie has an element of excitement, given that you never know what she's going to do next. Unfortunately, she's only in the first half hour and then one very short scene at the end. That leaves a lot of time for Joaquin Phoenix and Liv Tyler to mope around.

Another thing that bugged me about this movie is that I haven't seen this old of actors playing high school students since the movie version of Grease. Liv, the youngest of the four is twenty, while Billy Crudup is a 29-year-old high-school senior. It might not be so bad, but no effort is made to make them seem younger. It also distorts some of their behavior. A teenager fooling around for revenge doesn't seem quite as bad as a grown man doing the same thing.

Unlike Eric, I found JC to be annoying rather than interesting. I just wanted to slap him and say "Get over the Abbotts already!" Of course, this might also have to do with the fact of how much older he seems than his character is supposed to be.

All in all, Inventing the Abbotts is a disappointingly tame soap opera in desperate need of a better editing job.

Reviewed on: March 28th, 2012
Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup play ping pong in Inventing the Abbotts.

Joaquin Phoenix and Billy Crudup play ping pong in Inventing the Abbotts.

Inventing the Abbotts is yet another nostalgic look back at small town America in the 1950s as narrated by the disembodied, middle-aged voice of a protagonist taking us on a trip back to his wonder years. It is unoriginal in setup and execution and badly edited. The director skims quickly over every big emotional revelation but then slows the story to a crawl with long, dull scenes of Doug and Pam courting.

The script is also weak. It begins with the following trite and boring narration, “The end of my innocence began in 1957. It is remarkable to me now just how little I knew then about the people around me.” Fascinating it ain't. The characters speak with a quaint 1950s dialect mixed with anachronistic crudeness. For example it doesn't ring true when Mr. Abbott tells the teenaged JC to, “Keep your poor-boy dick out of my daughters.”

I agree with my brothers that Doug and Pam are uninteresting central characters. The most unusual thing about Doug is that, at the very beginning of the movie for some inexplicable reason, he draws fake sideburns -Ala Elvis- on his face before attending a swank affair at the Abbott's house. This hints at a unique and rebellious side to his nature that never again surfaces in the entire movie. Pam is just as bland, exhibiting all the personality of a dust mop.

While I disliked JC as a person, he is by far the more entertaining brother. Sure he's emotionally screwed up but at least he goes out and takes what he wants. Unlike his woe-is-me younger brother. The scenes with JC and Eleanor provide glimmers of what this movie could have been, with a completely different story.

The relationship between the Holt brothers is never as compelling as it thinks. They are quite different, having just ping pong (see photo) and one of the three Abbott sisters in common. But the script never made me give a shit enough about them to care when they have their big fight and subsequent reconciliation. As movie inventions go, the Abbotts are a failure.

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