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Movie Review

'Invisible Circus' Lumbers After Spirit of the '60s

February 02, 2001|JOHN ANDERSON | FOR THE TIMES

For those denied eligibility for the '60s--who were, say, 12 when Woodstock passed them by--there was a distinct sense of having missed the cultural boat. Like Gertrude Stein's Lost Generation, caught between world wars, they were too young to hate Nixon or go to 'Nam, and too old to mourn Kurt Cobain.

"The Invisible Circus," director Adam Brooks' adaptation of Jennifer Egan's novel, revolves around this state of generational limbo, but not in any way that makes you care very much. Left behind in San Francisco when her sister skipped off to Europe several years before, Phoebe O'Connor (Jordana Brewster of NBC's "The '60s," oddly enough) decides to shake off her suburban ennui and try to find out what happened to Faith (Cameron Diaz), the quintessential hippie chick whose body was found washed up on some Portuguese rocks circa 1970.

Unlike Phoebe, "The Invisible Circus" doesn't go anywhere in haste. We linger in Frisco, where we're introduced to Phoebe, her mom (Blythe Danner), the girls' late father (Patrick Bergin) and Faith herself, via a series of flashbacks full of forced intimacy and period spirit. Like the sisters' relationship--totally devoid of any natural sibling conflict--the era feels like something remembered by someone who was never there.

But there are any number of aspects to "The Invisible Circus" that simply don't ring true--the troupe of jugglers and prestidigitators that Phoebe, in flashback, finds Faith has casually brought home (a scene with all the period authenticity of a medieval fair). Or Phoebe showing her sister's photograph around Amsterdam, seven years after Faith briefly blew through on her way to Paris and Portugal. Or Phoebe's assessment of herself and her supposedly fearless sister: "Me, I'm afraid of everything." Sure, except taking off for Europe by herself at age 17, dropping acid handed to her by some dubious street urchin and getting romantically involved with her sister's old boyfriend (Christopher Eccleston), who, for all we know, might have had a hand in Faith's mysterious death.

What actually became of Faith turns out to be far more interesting that the movie seems to realize. Revolutionary politics, terrorist bombings, the Red Army faction--this is prime stuff. Instead, Brooks dwells languorously on the sexual side of things, which, given Brewster's almost childlike bearing and Eccleston's maturity as both man and actor, is simply embarrassing.

"You guys were reinventing the world every day," Phoebe says, invoking the supposed daily cultural epiphany that punctuated the '60s. As if to emphasize how things have changed, "The Invisible Circus" remains inert.

* MPAA rating: R, for sexuality, language and drug content. Times guidelines: Brief nudity and muted, sexuality.

'The Invisible Circus'

Jordana Brewster: Phoebe

Cameron Diaz: Faith

Christopher Eccleston: Wolf

Blythe Danner: Gail

Patrick Bergin: Gene

A Fine Line Features release. Producers Tim Van Rellim, Nick Wechsler and Julia Chasman. Screenwriter-director Adam Brooks. Cinematographer Henry Braham. Editor Elizabeth Kling. Costume designer Donna Zakowska. Production designer Robin Standefer. Art director Stephen Alesch.Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes.

At selected theaters.

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