Inventing the Abbotts is an excellent movie with its sensitive and emotionally affecting delineation of the youthful struggle to emerge from the cocoon of family. This beautifully acted and richly developed drama is set in a small midwestern town from 1957 through 1960.

Fifteen-year-old Doug Holt (Joaquin Phoenix) lives with his beloved schoolteacher mother (Kathy Baker) and his handsome older brother Jacey (Billy Crudup). Doug is a long-time friend of Pamela Abbott (Liv Tyler), one of the daughters in the wealthiest family in town. Jacey, however, feels shamed by his family's working-class status; to him the Abbotts are a challenge. He begins an affair with the rebellious Eleanor Abbott (Jennifer Connelly) which arouses the ire of her authoritarian father (Will Patton) who wants all of his daughters to marry rich young men. Before the romantic Doug can express his true feelings for Pamela, he has to come to terms with his brother's anger and a family secret that hangs like a dark cloud over his head.

This film offers an inventive and engaging exploration of emotional intelligence. Pat O'Connor directs Inventing the Abbotts with a keen eye on the important role feelings play in our development as rounded human beings. Similar to what he did in Circle of Friends, O'Connor gives these characters space to wrestle with their contradictory responses to the pressures of libido, reason, passion, and propriety. Ken Hixon has done a superb job in bringing Sue Miller's short story to the screen with all its themes intact.