Published Feb 01, 2001Although "The Invisible Circus" is a revisionist look at the 1970s, it's just as reductionist and simple-minded as most movies about the 60s, despite its enticing premise. Jordana Brewster plays Phoebe, a sheltered adolescent who goes on a transcontinental journey to discover just what happened to her sister, Faith (Cameron Diaz), who was found dead, seven years earlier, on the rocky shore of a village in Portugal. Her quest takes her from the suburbs of San Francisco to Amsterdam, Paris, Berlin, and finally to the shores of Portugal, where, in a sun-drenched, pictorially lovely scene, she stands on a cliff-side ledge facing the ocean and metaphysically soaks in her sister's final moments as if through some transcendental bond. By this time, it was only the visual splendor of the moment that took me in, because there's nothing to truly discover in this finale, except for the foregone conclusion, to which I had resigned myself, that the ending would be a derivative epiphany.
This kind of existential travelogue is vaguely reminiscent of films by Wenders or Antonioni, only in this case it's all filtered through an intrinsically dull perspective. Writer-director Adam Brooks ("Almost You") took his cast and crew all over Europe to shoot this, but he skips across the various locations as if he were gathering postcard photos, and appropriately enough, Phoebe uses her sister's postcards to trace her path. There's no sense of risk or adventure in her travels. She immediately hooks up with Faith's old boyfriend, Wolf (Christopher Eccleston) (who knows the whole story, but is loathe to tell it), so she has someone to hold her hand and gently guide her to the truth, instead of piecing it together by her own wits.
Diaz is seen only in flashback, and she plays a free-spirited, flowers-in-her-hair lefty (her parties are, for no discernable reason, populated by guests who seem to have been pulled away from the touring company of Cirque du Soleil). As her story unfolds in tedious, measured doses, she ends up actively joining in the terrorist activities of the Red Army. My guess is that this is the last time Cameron Diaz will be asked to play a Marxist revolutionary, and with good reason. Credibility is in short supply in this film, and she's a big part of the deficit. But it's really Brooks who fails to do justice to the subject matter. This story could have dealt, in a weighty, meaningful way, with the moral compromises that come along with a commitment to social justice, or with the issue of the 70s generation living in the unflattering shadow of the "all-or-nothing" idealism of the 60s. Instead all of these issues get bleached-out and nullified in the sun-dappled closing images.