It's 1977 San Francisco - the flower children have all grown up and Ronnie Reagan is just around the corner. Seventeen-year-old Phoebe O'Connor (Jordana Brewster) feels inert without a cause save her obsession over the death of her hippie older sister Faith (Cameron Diaz) who killed herself while traveling in Europe six years ago. Determined to find out the truth about Faith's suicide Phoebe journeys to Europe and follows her sister's exact itinerary… and discovers who her sister really was.
Diaz is to the film like Faith is to Phoebe; namely taking up too much mental space from start to finish. Now it's not that Diaz's performance is totally bad (though at times she is too affected) it's just that the "Charlie's Angels" glamour starlet just seems so... out of place in such a consciously small film. Diaz was best in the tender moments (particularly when she's paired up with a younger Phoebe played by a wide-eyed Camilla Belle) but her star presence simply dwarfs everyone and everything next to her including her own character. Not much better is Brewster whose quiet aura promises -- but fails -- to deliver a modicum of depth emotional complexities or range. But nods must be given to Christopher Eccleston who plays Faith's ex-boyfriend and Phoebe's confidant (and fling) for actually acting.
One gets the sense that writer-director Adam Brooks must have worked with a checklist of all the '60s and '70s iconography that he could come up with. There was the hippie party the acid trip requisite hallucinations even European underground terrorists (who strut around like urban hipsters hanging out rather than guerilla militants in hiding). But when you come right down to it the real problems with "The Invisible Circus" are the poorly motivated characters and a superficially drawn script leaving you not caring much for either sister's experiences. Of course the film is about idealism lost - of the '60s letting its children down and of Faith doing the same to Phoebe. But unfortunately Brooks has turned the film into a cliché about the era rather than an exploration into the people who inhabited it.