The Invisible Circus
review by Dan Lybarger, 15 February 2001

Writer-director Adam Brooks’ adaptation of Jennifer Egan’s novel The Invisible Circus deals with several potent ideas: drugs, sex, terrorism and international relations. Curiously, the film is less engaging to the heart and mind than a long monologue on C-SPAN. Despite a solid cast and authentic European and American locations, the proceedings in The Invisible Circus inspire little more than indifference.

Beginning at the dawn of the '70s in San Francisco, the movie follows a young woman named Phoebe (Jordana Brewster) who has never really gotten over the death of her sister Faith (Cameron Diaz). Phoebe has always looked up to her older sibling and wished she, too, could on a whim take off for Europe.

Faith, as the tiresome voiceover constantly reminds us, was vivacious and cheerful. Therefore, it seems suspicious that she would kill herself. Deciding to get to the truth and to give herself a little adventure, Phoebe decides to head to the Old World herself when she reaches eighteen.

When she arrives, she discovers that some of her suspicions were reasonable. Faith’s boyfriend Wolf (Christopher Eccleston from Elizabeth) has changed radically since the early '70s. His once long hair (actually unconvincing extensions) is now cropped short, and his bohemian ways have long been abandoned. Wolf tries to tell the doubting Phoebe that her sister had joined some radical leftist movements that advocated violence. His case isn’t helped by his selective delivery of the truth.

Nor is the film’s romantic subplot. The strong-willed Phoebe and the more pragmatic Wolf have all the chemistry of oil and water, and all the narration Brewster can recite can’t change that. Brooks, whose previous writing efforts have included undistinguished films like Practical Magic and French Kiss, also goes overboard with flashbacks. At times, it’s a little tricky to tell when we are in the early '70s or the late '70s. These sequences are also so superficial that they add little to the current narrative. Brooks manages to waste the skills of two terrific actors like Blythe Danner and Patrick Bergin (as Phoebe’s parents) because he uses them as props rather than full characters. We are told volumes about their troubled relationship, but these scenes would be much more meaningful if we could actually see how their marriage is strained. We never see them really interacting, so we’re forced to take Phoebe’s word about the whole situation.

In addition, the core characters are hard to embrace. Phoebe seems impulsive and foolish, and her sister seems more frivolous than charismatic. Wolf’s cold manner makes him an odd romantic attraction, so one has a hard time believing that one woman, much less three, would fall for him.

To his credit, Brooks imbues a nice faded look that helps suggest the period nicely. He also avoids loading the soundtrack with needless oldies tunes. Nonetheless, he wastes a lot of time with a silly acid-inspired sequence that features Pheobe taking to her sister through a window pane. The sequence feels more forced and cheesy than surreal. Because of too many scenes like these, The Invisible Circus feels less like a drug trip and more like the annoying side effects on the morning after.

Written and
Directed by:

Adam Brooks

Jordana Brewster
Christopher Eccleston
Cameron Diaz
Blythe Danner
Patrick Bergin
Camilla Belle
Moritz Bleibtreu
Isabelle Pasco

R - Restricted
Under 17 requires
parent or adult





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