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The Invisible Circus

Starring Jordana Brewster, Christopher Eccleston, and Cameron Diaz; Blythe Danner
Based on the novel by Jennifer Egan
Written and Directed by Adam Brooks

IN SHORT: For the arthouse. [Rated R for sexuality, language and drug content. 98 minutes]

In 1969, Faith (Cameron Diaz) and her boyfriend Wolf (Christopher Eccleston) left San Francisco and went to Europe. He stayed in France. She jumped off a cliff in Portugal. Six or so years later, armed with a pocketful of old postcards, younger sister Phoebe (Jordana Brewster) goes in search of her sister's trail, to find answers to questions that were never fully put to rest. Phoebe, like her father before her, was of a generation that "missed" the cacophony of the Sixties. While Phoebe has the lingering memories of a Fifties dad who died early of leukemia, her reaction upon attaining adulthood is a bit different from the rest of us Seventies kidlets. We partied furiously and screwed our brains out. Phoebe sets off in search of discovery.

That hunt can lead two ways. It can lead to discoveries that are interesting to watch or it can lead to a lot of introspection, something best delivered in the thousands of words contained in a novel. As always we don't compare to source material but can tell from the adaptation that the book is heavy on self-introspection and supposition. We know this because the adaptation tells us everything that might have been discovered, if the nature of the search could have led to it. The problem faced by writer/director Adam Brooks' adaptation of Jennifer Egan's novel is that the very plot of the story leads to situations that by their very nature would not be easy to randomly uncover.

Phoebe is in possession of prosaic bits of writing on postcards that she has carefully preserved, that guide her along the stations of Faith's last journey, but those, in addition to a free tab of blotter acid slipped to her by a street lass in Amsterdam don't offer any great revelation as to what life was like for her sister six years earlier. That comes only when she finds the Paris abode of Christopher, the man formerly known as Wolf, who leaves his girlfriend behind to finish the journey to Portugal with Phoebe. For all the alleged freedom and openness of Sixties radicalism, the people that Faith and Wolf found themselves hanging with were about the most restrictive, tight lipped bunch you could possibly imagine.

While the visual distraction of moving from great city to great city is one thing, we never got a real sense of what Phoebe was really after. Brewster's performance is so low key that we never got a sense that discovering the truth about her sister's demise was key to her emotional development. There are flashbacks involving the demised dad that appear more important than the point they are needed to deliver -- that point involves something Diaz' character will do, which is key to the story and thus cannot be revealed here.

The title of the piece appears, and disappears, in one sentence describing a late night party. Given the timeframe and the performance, the characters are probably doped out of their skulls but the film avoids saying so. The filmmakers deliberately tried not to point to markers like clothes and drugs, which we applaud because those bits of production design in a period piece can interfere with storytelling, but Brooks doesn't have a lot of clues that he can drop into this voyage to keep us interested. Blythe Danner appears as the mom but her character doesn't provide a heck of a lot of conflict or support for Phoebe's decision to follow in Faith's footsteps, albeit solo.

The story development is so uninvolving that we found our mind wandering to the point that Jordana Brewster could easily play Angie Harmon's (of Law & Order) sister in a different project. When a film can't hold our attention well enough that we go that far off course, well, it is not a good thing

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to The Invisible Circus, he would have paid...


Rent it, unless you prefer the arthouse circuit. The Invisible Circus is best for that audience, which will gain more from a post screening dissection by conversation.

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