The Invisible Circus (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

I've written so much about the 60's in the past that I'm sick of thinking about them. Like one of the characters in this film, I'd rather turn my back and leave them behind, but Hollywood doesn't seem to want me to do that.

Here's the quick facts. What we think of as the 60's - the hippie times, the anti-war movement, the peace and love and brotherhood slogans, the psychedelic clothing, the acid rock, the new sexual freedom. the whole counter-cultural revolution - it really began in the summer of 1967 and ended in the summer of 1974 when Nixon handed in his resignation. To tell you the truth, the real fire had burned out even sooner. The McGovern campaign was probably the dying gasp of the movement.

But the next half-generation, our younger brothers and sisters, the high school kids we taught when we became young teachers, they seemed to hold the entire era in awe and treat it with a symbolic reverence that it didn't really deserve. This movie is about both perspectives. The older sister who lived the sixties, and the younger sister who tried to understand why it all led to her sister's suicide.

The "present' of the film is 1976, and the younger sister (Jordana Brewster) takes off to Europe, to re-trace the route that led her beloved older sister (Cameron Diaz) to change somehow from the smiling and loving free spirit she knew, to someone capable of suicide. She tracks down the older sister's boyfriend (Christopher Eccleston), and enlists his aid in the recreation of big sister's journey into the sixties. The movie is basically his narrative as he recalls the saga of the older sister for the benefit of the younger sister, and himself.


Jordana Brewster is topless as she undresses for a sex scene with Eccleston.

Shortly later, Eccleston's butt is seen as he stands naked with his back to the camera.

There is also a random topless woman in a passing auto.

It seems that way back in 1967-69, everything just happened so fast. First Cameron was entranced by street magicians in her house, and her awareness that the world around her was changing. Then what seemed like a week later, Cam and Eccleston were in Amsterdam getting their politics radicalized, and a few months after that, Cam was enlisted into Euroterrorism groups, in which she was packin' a 38, robbin' banks, and blowin' up embassies. Finally, Cam had a great revelation - "hey, killing innocent people to protest the US government's killing of innocent people may not make a lot of sense. In fact, it actually shows that we believe killing innocent people is OK, as long as we are the ones to decide which innocent people." When Cam realized how she had lost her moral compass, she went back to Eccleston, they went on one more trip together, and a guilt-ridden Cam ultimately jumped off a cliff in Portugal.

If they had stuck with Cam's tale, the movie might have been a lot better. But here's where it got artificial - Eccleston only revealed the story in bits and pieces (presumably because he still couldn't deal with it), so Eccleston and the younger sister ended up tracing Cam's footsteps all the way to that cliff in Portugal, and only then did Eccleston reveal the dramatic secret even though, of course, he knew it all along.

If he had just told her the full story back in Amsterdam, there wouldn't have been any movie. More important, Eccleston and the younger sister wouldn't have had a chance to form the beast with two backs, and we couldn't have seen a bunch of phony-baloney redemptive love, and that kind of Hollywood stuff. Brewster and Eccleston do finally pair up and make nice-nice, Brewster finds out that her sister killed herself because she couldn't handle the guilt of her own involvement in terrorist acts, and everyone grows just a little bit, gosh darn it.

So if you were born after 1956, and thus missed all the good stuff in the 60's, don't be tempted to trace your older sister's footsteps and try to understand the period. Here it is in a nutshell. Uncle Scoopy's Cliff's Notes on the 60's.

  • Vietnam sucked
  • There was a draft, so you had to go if Uncle Sam said so.
  • People didn't want to go to die in Vietnam without a clear reason, and without any choice. Other people, especially friends and family of those who might be forced to go, agreed.
  • A counter-culture grew up around the anti-war movement. This subculture was often in diametric opposition to the attitudes of mainstream America on many other issues in addition to the war. They looked at eastern religions for answers, and they condemned America's imperialism, capitalism, and racism. These cultural revolutionaries thought they could change the world.
  • The media seized upon this counter-culture and turned the entire fucker into a Pepsi ad.
  • Lots of people entered the movement who didn't give a damn about the war or about racism. They though it was cool, or the media seduced them, or they came for the sex, or they came for the drugs.
  • The draft was abolished, the war ended, and Nixon got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Everybody felt that the struggle was over, sold their love beads, got an MBA and started listening to BeeGees music. Posters of Ravi Shankar and Che Guevara were torn down and replaced with posters of John Travolta in his white disco suit. People continued to have sex and take drugs a lot.
  • The End

DVD info from Amazon.

  • widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1, and a full screen version

The movie was raped by the critics, and lasted about 14 minutes at the box office, despite beautiful locations and four capable stars (the fourth is Blythe Danner as the mother of the two sisters).

That probably tells you what you need to know about the script, if you hadn't already figured it out.


The Invisible Circus (2001) is the story of a young woman of 18, who has been obsessed with the suicide of her older sister in Europe since her death 6 years earlier, and decides to retrace her sisters steps, find out what really happened to her, and maybe put it behind her. Her sister (played by Cameron Diaz in flashback sequences that are nearly half of the film), was a 60's Berkeley radical, and hero to her younger sister. Diaz left for Europe with her boyfriend, and postcards home seemed positive, until the suicide.

Jordana Brewster, as the younger sister, ends up with Diaz boyfriend, slowly finds out the entire story of her sister's life and death in Europe, and falls in love with the boyfriend.

For those who, like me, don't know much about Brewster, the IMDB biography in this case is very good, and rather interesting.

" Raven-haired beauty Jordana Brewster was born in Panama City, Panama on April 26, 1980. She was raised in London, England up until the age of six. At this time her family decided to move back to native Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Here they would stay for the next 4 years. Jordana learned to speak fluent Portuguese during her 4 year stay in Rio de Janeiro. At the age of ten Jordana's family decided to move again, only this time they would relocate to Manhattan. It was here where Jordana studied at Sacred Heart, an all-girl Catholic school before moving on to the New York Professional Children's School. It was in her teens that Jordana began to make a name for herself by appearing in two of daytime television's longest-running soap operas, "All My Children" and "As the World Turns," where Brewster played the role of Nikki Munson for three years. Jordana would also go on to costar in the NBC mini-series "The 60s." The year 1998 marked Jordana's big-screen debut as Delilah Profitt in the teen-driven film, The Faculty . However, it would be her role as Mia Toretto in the blockbuster hit "Fast and The Furious, The (2001)" that would lead Jordana to reach Hollywood stardom. Despite her success Jordana continued to attend Yale University, in the class of 2003."

I agree with most that the film doesn't quite work, but was captivated by Brewster, and suspect that we will see a lot of her based on her looks, charisma, and acting ability.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: two stars. Ebert 1.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 5.1/10.
  • With their dollars ... negligible box office. It did so poorly in a 100 screen trial that it was pulled almost immediately.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, Scoop says, "this film is a C-. I don't know why critics and viewers felt it was worse than that. It is not a good movie, but it can generally be described as watchable. It looks good and it is well performed." Tuna says, "This is a high D+. There is nothing really wrong with it, it just never quite involves us in the story."

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