Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 25, 2006)
If Rob Reiner hoped that 2005’s Rumor Has It… would be a comeback commercial hit, he hoped in vein. Though the flick earned more than any Reiner film since 1995’s The American President, it’d be a mistake to see it as a success. Despite some decent star power in its cast, the flick limped to a lackluster $42 million gross.
Perhaps that’s because the movie is only sporadically entertaining. Rumor starts with a prologue set in the Sixties that hints at the reality behind The Graduate. We then leap to 1997 and meet Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston), a young woman struggling to figure out her own identity. She heads home to California for her younger sister Annie’s (Mena Suvari) wedding and takes her fiancé Jeff (Mark Ruffalo) home with her. However, she seems unsure about this relationship and doesn’t want to announce her engagement just yet.
Sarah’s visit home doesn’t help eliminate her general confusion. She feels she doesn’t fit with her family and questions if she’s truly related to them. This complicates during a discussion with her grandmother Katharine (Shirley MacLaine). During the chat, Sarah learns of her late mother Jocelyn’s pre-wedding jitters, and this leads to suspicions of an affair with Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner).
A follow-up with her mom’s best friend Mitzi (Kathy Bates) provides an enticing little fact: Beau was pals with Charles Webb, the author of The Graduate. This nugget along with the math related to her birth leads Sarah to jump to a series of conclusions: Jocelyn did it with Beau before she married her dad Earl (Richard Jenkins), Beau is her biological dad, and Katharine is the real Mrs. Robinson. Rumor follows Sarah’s attempts to find out the truth and come to terms with her own identity as well as romantic complications.
In addition to being a top-notch babe – and the world’s most famous jilted wife – Aniston has an awful lot of talent, especially as a comedic actor. Why does she find it so tough to land a decent project? If you look at her non-Friends résumé, you’ll find lots of chaff and virtually no wheat. Rumor doesn’t qualify as a bad flick, but it only occasionally lives up to its promise.
Honestly, the flick’s concept is the best thing about it. A story that reveals the facts behind The Graduate sounds fun, and it opens up many amusing possibilities – only a few of which Rumor actually explores. It sporadically ties in with its inspiration, but too much of the film proceeds as a fairly standard romantic comedy. There’s not a ton of cleverness on display here.
A lot of the trouble comes from the characters. For the first part of the film, they exist as little more than quip machines. They have a falseness about them, as if they live in Comedy Land and don’t connect with reality.
As Rumor progresses, it turns more dramatic and tries to make the personalities deeper. This doesn’t work due to the lightness of the prior moments. I’m not saying that films can’t pull off this change; I am saying that this film fails to succeed when it attempts to create more three-dimensional characters.
At least the actors give it their best. Aniston does little more than play a variation on Rachel here, though I can tell that her chops have improved over the years, as she shows greater impact in her dramatic bits than we ever saw on TV. The rest of the cast is just fine, and as I alluded earlier, we certainly find a nice roster of performers. Granted, MacLaine doesn’t actually act anymore; she just imposes her Grand Dame Diva will on parts and shoots for the campy comedy. That’s enough for this flick, I suppose.
But it’s not enough to allow Rumor Has It… to turn into anything memorable. The film wastes a clever premise as it slowly degenerates into a very average drama. It’s not so bad that I can claim it wastes its talent, but it sure doesn’t take advantage of its potential.