Screened at Sundance (Premieres). Dir: Adam Brooks. US. 2001. 98mins.
Adam Brooks' The Invisible Circus is a total miss, both as a potentially intriguing look into the tumultuous politics of the 1960s and 1970s, and as a coming of age of a young girl obsessed by the mysterious death of her sister. The film's strongest marketing hook is Cameron Diaz, who plays the role of the older sister, but her performance (which is pallid) is contained within a lame movie, that despite exotic locales, fails to register even as a travelogue. A bleak future awaits Fine Line's film, which has been long on the shelf and was a last-moment substitute for The Dangerous Lives Of Altar Boys in the Sundance Premieres section.
Set in San Francisco, circa 1977, the first reel centres on Phoebe O'Connor (Jordana Brewster), who has just graduated from high school and is about to begin college in the autumn. She lives with her mother, Gail (Blythe Danner), but something basic is missing from her life: a sense of connectedness to the outside world, a meaningful act that will make her growing pains more tolerable. What's a bright but aimless girl gonna do' She plunges into her family's painful past, committed to unravel the mystery that surrounds her charismatic sister, Faith (Diaz), who killed herself in Portugal six years earlier.
Against her mother's wish, Phoebe hits the road, following Faith's path through Europe in her determination to disclose the truth. Assuming the shape of a tedious road movie, Invisible Circus jumps around from Amsterdam, where Phoebe gets to experience LSD; to Paris, where Phoebe hooks up with Faith's former boyfriend, Wolf (Christopher Eccleston); to Berlin, where she learns of Faith's involvement with several revolutionary groups; to the picturesque village in Portugal, where her sister killed herself.
Unintentionally, the film gives a bad name to 1970s countercultural revolutionary movements - Faith is portrayed as a woman attracted to radical causes for personal rather than political reasons. Motivation for the conduct of both sisters is framed in strictly psychological terms - a recurrent problem of American films dealing with politics. The two heroines come across as not very bright women, lacking firm convictions and inflicted with frail identities, as a result of family experiences related to their now-dead father.
Extensive voice-over narration and intrusive flashback structure make the film even less involving. Lacking grip over his characters, writer-director Brooks fails to find the core of his story. The end result is a messy, rambling, unenjoyable film, likely to go down in history as Diaz's most embarrassing role to date.
Prod co: Industry Entertainment. US dist: Fine Line Features. Int'l dist: New Line International. Exec prod: Tim Van Rellim. Prods: Julia Chasman, Nick Wechsler. Scr: Adam Brooks, based on the novel by Jennifer Egan. Cinematography: Henry Braham. Prod des: Robin Standefer. Ed: Elizabeth Kling. Mus: Nick Laird-Clowes. Main cast: Cameron Diaz, Jordana Brewster, Christopher Eccleston, Blythe Danner, Patrick Bergin