Warner Bros. // 2005 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Michael Rankins (Retired) // May 9th, 2006
"That's Pasadena, kid. That's what happens when you give people everything they want and you leave 'em alone for 100 years." -- Katharine Richelieu (Shirley MacLaine)
Ever dream that your life was a movie? I have. Only, in my dream, no one looked like Jennifer Aniston.
New York Times obituary writer Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston, Friends, Derailed) has always felt out of place in her prosperous family. She has nothing in common -- from appearance to politics -- with her conservative father (Richard Jenkins, Fun With Dick And Jane) or her space-cadet sister (Mena Suvari, Domino), who is about to get married in the family's hometown of Pasadena, California.
When Sarah stumbles upon a long-standing Pasadena rumor -- that author Charles Webb based his classic 1963 novel The Graduate, later adapted into the 1967 film that made Dustin Hoffman a star, upon happenings in the lives of a prominent local family -- her journalist's mind begins adding up snippets of evidence that lead her to a startling conclusion: Sarah's eccentric grandmother Katharine Richelieu (Shirley MacLaine, Bewitched) was the model for Mrs. Robinson, the character played by Anne Bancroft in the film. If the rumor is true, it means that Sarah's now-deceased mother was the real-life Elaine, the Katharine Ross character, and local-boy-made-good dot-com millionaire Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner, The Upside of Anger) was the real-life Benjamin Braddock. Which, in turn, means that Beau bedded both Grandma Katharine and Sarah's mother -- just before she married Sarah's father? Which, given Sarah's arrival on the scene only eight months after her parents' wedding, could explain a lot about Sarah's feelings of familial displacement.
Desperate to know the truth, Sarah tracks down the jet-setting Beau at a conference in San Francisco. He confesses to the dalliance with Sarah's mother, but claims that -- due to a tragic sports-related accident in his youth -- he couldn't possibly be Sarah's biological father, no matter what the rumors say. So if indeed the craggy yet attractive Beau isn't Sarah's father, perhaps he could become something else -- her lover, maybe?
Will Sarah become the third generation of women in her family to succumb to Beau's rakish charms? And if she does, won't that be just a little...creepy?
At last, a Hollywood film with a novel premise! Screenwriter T.M. "Ted" Griffin (Ocean's Eleven, Matchstick Men) devises a clever concept (or at the every least, one that hasn't been exhausted ad infinitum) with Rumor Has It...: What if The Graduate was based on real-life people, and the next generation of "Robinsons" found out? It's an idea rife with hilarious comedic possibilities.
The execution? That's another story.
Rumor Has It... is a pleasantly cute, eminently disposable date-night flick, but it held the potential to be much more. As it stands, it's a sporadically entertaining goulash of wry social satire, romantic comedy, and cross-generational family drama, derailed (no pun intended, Ms. Aniston) by unfocused direction and some of the most somnambulant performances ever given by the majority of its cast. The film starts off looking as though it wants to be broadly comic (anyone who's seen Vegas Vacation will experience déjà vu during the abortive airplane-restroom sex scene that occurs early in the proceedings here), then drifts along before dissolving into warmed-over soap opera.
If one can believe what one reads in the Hollywood press (snicker), Ted Griffin was originally slated to both write and direct Rumor Has It..., but the studio bounced him out of the captain's chair during filming in favor of Rob Reiner. Assuming that's true, it's likely that Reiner and others stuck their greasy spoons into Griffin's screenplay and stirred it into incoherence, which would account for the film's "too many cooks" sensibility. What likely began with a single interesting idea gets lost, meandering inside itself, and the on-camera participants don't appear to care much.
Reiner, whose hit-making days appear to be about as remote in the past as his political aspirations are in the future, never gets a firm grip on where he wants his movie to go. As a result, the picture maintains a sluggish emotional keel throughout. The occasional laughs aren't big enough to make Rumor Has It... a memorable comedy, and the dramatic moments don't tug sharply enough at our heartstrings to make the film effective in that venue, either. It just sort of clumps along -- not fish, not fowl -- to its anticlimactic conclusion.
Jennifer Aniston is, well, Jennifer Aniston. Either her bland, wholesome, innocuous appeal works for you or it doesn't. Here, Aniston didn't work for me at all, to the point that I spent much of the movie wondering how much better the film would have been had a quirkier, more energetic and engaging leading lady (for whatever reason, I kept thinking of Jennifer Westfeldt from Kissing Jessica Stein) been cast as in the lead role. For the film to work, we need to connect emotionally with Sarah's angst and confusion, but Aniston's sour-faced, relentlessly whiny characterization is mostly a turn-off.
The low-wattage performances opposite Aniston don't help her any. As the man every woman in Sarah's family must eventually sleep with, Kevin Costner never shows us one good reason why they'd want to. Costner's natural charisma often lets him skate slack-jawed through film roles without much effort, but here he's clearly just marking time. He's also too youthful for the part of Beau -- Costner and Aniston are only 14 years apart in age, thus we never believe for a moment that he could really be her long-lost father. (Which proves to be a plus, actually, because it dampens the ickier prospects of a potential father-daughter romance.) Mark Ruffalo, whose work I usually find intense and arresting, lends so little life to the underwritten character of Sarah's earnest fiancé Jeff that his scenes might as well have been edited out entirely. The only person having obvious fun here is Shirley MacLaine, who dives into her Mrs. Robinson-three-decades-later part with gusto, even though she's given too little screen time and too few snappy one-liners.
All that said, the movie isn't a total disaster. It's frothy and sweet and as substantial as cotton candy, with enough genuinely funny moments to make it enjoyable. It's just disappointing that its unique central concept never blossoms into something worthy of that creative conceit. Rumor Has It... could have been ahead of the pack, but instead, it's closer to run-of-the-mill.
Warner Bros. clearly didn't believe that Rumor Has It... warranted much fanfare upon its DVD release (although rumor has it that a high-definition version is on the horizon). This is an uncharacteristically spartan product, given that it's a recent film with plenty of major names attached. The video transfer on the widescreen version (you know that buying fullscreen versions finances the slaughter of baby seals in the Arctic, don't you?) is clean and clear, albeit with a smattering of edge enhancement in the brighter scenes. Colors are appropriately balanced, if a bit muted, throughout the film. The soundtrack is adequate for the genre, with dialogue centered and the score neither overwhelming nor harsh. But that, plus the film's theatrical trailer, is all you get for your money. Any suggestion of additional extras is merely a rumor.
In order to make its narrowly specific timeline work for the ages of the actors cast -- Jennifer Aniston in particular -- Rumor Has It... is set in 1997, exactly 30 years after the 1967 release of The Graduate. Someone, whether original scribe Ted Griffin or a later revisionist, momentarily forgot this fact when writing a scene in which Mark Ruffalo as Sarah's fiancé makes reference to Kate Winslet's nude portrait posing in Titanic. Although released in 1997, Titanic didn't premiere until the weekend before Christmas -- several months after the scene in question is supposed to take place. Oops.
Given its juicy premise, I really wanted Rumor Has It... to dazzle me with cleverness brilliance. Instead, it offered tepid, if harmless enough, entertainment that vanished from my consciousness the instant I pressed the stop button.
If you fancy either romantic comedy or Jennifer Aniston, save your money and wait until this movie hits a premium cable channel near you. Better yet, rent The Graduate, and skip the wannabe sequel.
This Court doesn't consider rumors, only hard evidence. The facts of this case show that the defendant is guilty of squandering serious potential in favor of half-baked leftovers. The Judge sentences director Rob Reiner to five years in a cell with Art Garfunkel. Court is adjourned.
Review content copyright © 2006 Michael Rankins; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site