There are three Abbott sisters (Going, Connelly, and Tyler) and two Holt brothers (Phoenix and Crudup). From different sides of the tracks, they will all cross paths at various points of their coming of age, much to the chagrin of their parents.
Uh-oh, just what the cinema world doesn't really want: yet another coming-of-age in smalltown 1950s America movie with an attractive young cast, vintage pop platters and a narrator (Michael Keaton) setting the scene for "the end of my childhood...". People (in this case, the cloutsome producing team of Ron Howard and Brian Grazer) persist in making films like this, and other people (in every case, cinemagoers) persist in not going to see them.
The Abbotts are the swankiest family in the burg of Haley, Illinois, a pocket of resistance to Elvis and rebels without a cause and the year is 1957. There are three pretty daughters: snotty Alice (Joanna Going), slutty Eleanor (Jennifer Connelly) and tomboy Pamela (Tyler). Over on the wrong side of the tracks live the poor but dishy Holt brothers, shy Doug (Phoenix) and bad boy Jacey (Crudup), each fated to cross paths with various Abbotts at every significant life moment. Meanwhile, dictatorial Mr. A. (Will Patton) and weary widow Mrs. Holt (Kathy Baker) attempt to keep their offspring in line and apart.
It's all very bitty and fretfully episodic as three years pass - photogenically and tunefully enough - in sexual fumblings, melodrama and some genuine sweetness. Director Pat O'Connor can't find a steady rhythm in a story that is brittle and artificial when contrasted with his winning chick flick Circle Of Friends. What lifts this at key moments is the outstanding Phoenix's simpatico performance and we can add to the credit side happy casting that for once has assembled actresses and actors who really do resemble each other and present plausible siblings.
Nice, but no more.