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And now, the greatest heroine on earth

by Kaori Shoji
The Invisible Circus
Rating: * * * *Japanese title:Yukaihan Director: Adam Brooks Running time: 93 minutes Language: EnglishOpens July 7 at Yurakucho Subaru-za

As we know from Julia Roberts, it’s hard to be a heroine in Hollywood and stay that way. By heroine, I mean the classic, old-school types who are ephemeral and distressed, but not entirely vulnerable. For example, Julia was a heroine in “Pretty Woman” but discarded her credentials completely in “Erin Brockovich.”

Cameron Diaz in “The Invisible Circus”

What exactly happens to these ladies is a mystery, but time goes by and before you know it, another heroine has turned into what Archie Bunker used to call “The Sarge.” When that happens, it’s impossible to go back. The Sarge is not in distress. The Sarge takes charge. She knows right from wrong and when a man needs a good whacking. She’s in total control.

So is it better to have total control than to be a heroine? We’d have to ask Ophelia about that one.

“The Invisible Circus” is the tale of a true heroine, whose heroine factor is so off the charts that she appears in the movie only as a beautiful, metaphoric phantom in obsessive memory. People recall her, hang on to her image, base their lives on a time when they knew and loved her. “I’ll never love someone in that way, ever again” is how her former boyfriend describes her. For him, she was elusive and illusive and represented all the right ideals: freedom, self-sacrifice, self-liberation.

And then she dies young — which really clinches it.

The title, by the way, comes from a scene in which she invites a circus troupe to have breakfast in her kitchen. She was like that. At the same time, she carried an invisible circus within herself, and this is why she turned everyone she met into an enthralled audience of her escapades.

Cameron Diaz was chosen for this incredibly tall order of a role — one recalls that she inspired another film in which an adoring world dropped at her feet (“There’s Something About Mary”).

Diaz plays Faith, an energetic, charismatic hippette from San Francisco who has big plans to change the world. The story unfolds in the ’60s, when such an ideal made a lot of sense. In the process of participating in all the demonstrations and rallies, Faith decides that Europe is to be the launchpad for her schemes of world peace. She says goodbye to Mom (Blythe Danner) and baby sister Phoebe (Camilla Belle) and leaves with her ultra-cool Brit boyfriend Wolf (Christopher Eccleston). At first Faith’s postcards from the continent are full of hope and joy. Then they grow scarce. And as summer approaches its end, news of Faith’s suicide reaches Phoebe.

Six years later, Phoebe (Jordana Brewster), now 18, sleeps in Faith’s room, preserved exactly the way her sister left it, listens to Faith’s records and generally lives in her memories. As soon as she’s out of high school, Phoebe packs up and leaves for Amsterdam to trace Faith’s travels and find out what really happened. In the back of Phoebe’s mind is the conviction that Faith may not be dead after all. Europe, however, turns out to be a disappointment. Everywhere she goes, she is confronted by the realization that nothing is as wonderful as Faith had claimed.

In Paris, she looks up Wolf, now a respectable member of society and living with a Frenchwoman. He tells her to bury the ghost and get on with her life, but something in his manner triggers Phoebe’s suspicions. She questions him and ransacks his private drawers in what has now become a feverish investigation into the death of Faith.

Director/writer Adam Brooks came of age in the ’70s — it is the period “most dear to my heart” according to the production notes. To his credit, he refrains from glamorizing or freeze-framing anything to Springsteen, Dylan or Cream lyrics. Rather, he lets Faith’s words, her mind-set and actions do the defining. She is buoyed by so much belief, fueled by dreams and visions of what the world could be like, if only, if only . . . Her extreme naivete is charming but also alarming and in the end, her misguided enthusiasm proves to be her undoing.

Faith remains a true heroine, pure and unmarred, a lovely, sylphlike woman who goes around the streets of Amsterdam in raggedy jeans and bare feet, her head full of schemes or cravings for adventure. Even her abrupt exit from the world is romantic, tinged with just the right amount of sadness and carried out as if she was drawing the curtains to the stage of her inner, invisible circus.