Stars: Joaquin Phoenix, Billy Crudup, Jennifer Connelly, Kathy Baker, Will Patton, Michael Sutton, Liv Tyler, Joanna Going. Written by Ken Hixon. Directed by Pat OíConnor. Rated R for sex, nudity, profanity.

The year is 1957. The Abbotts are the wealthiest, most socially-connected family in the small, Midwestern town of Haley, Illinois. Lloyd Abbott (Will Patton) enjoys throwing parties for his three beautiful daughters, Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly), Pamela (Liv Tyler), and Alice (Joanna Going). Alice is the oldest and most prudent sister, while Eleanor sleeps around and Pamela does her best to stay out of trouble. Meanwhile in the poor part of town, widowed mother Helen Holt (Kathy Baker) is busy raising two headstrong sons, Doug (Joaquin Phoenix) and Jacey (Billy Crudup). Jacey is a handsome charmer and a bit of a lothario while Doug is the quiet, sensitive type who nevertheless is as girl-crazy as his older brother.

Despite the class differences, it is typically the Abbott girls chasing the Holt boys, and not the other way around. Jacey, who blames Lloyd for the Holtís low social standing and the death of his father, is obsessed with possessing and corrupting the Abbott girls. Meanwhile, Pamela quietly pursues Doug although he doesnít show much interest initially. Although these innocent and not-so-innocent romances make up the bulk of the film, at its heart is the conflict between brothers who are as different as night and day.

"Inventing the Abbotts" is a drama about relationships, but one which should only be viewed by mature audiences because of its preoccupation with sex. Even so, I would have given the film a higher rating if not for a couple of unlikely events that occur near its end. One is a contrivance which drives a wedge between the brothers. What happens should not have, given what we know about the characters. The other is a contrivance to bring them back together. Both events are shamelessly manipulative and undermine the creditability of the movie. Despite this, stunning performances by Liv Tyler, Jennifer Connelly, and the remainder of the cast do much toward making one forgive the filmís weaknesses.

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