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Rumor Has It…

Rumor Has It… (2005) sets up a situation that's so fundamentally weird, it's almost weirder that Rob Reiner chose to direct it as a cookie-cutter romantic comedy. Check out this story pitch: Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) and the man she "theoretically" wants to marry (Mark Ruffalo) fly to Pasadena in 1997 for the wedding of her little sister (Mena Suvari). Once there, Sarah — who's already a neurotic train wreck — finds out her family was the model for the Robinsons in Mike Nichols' classic 1967 comedy The Graduate. Sarah's dead mother was "Elaine Robinson." Sarah's father (Richard Jenkins) was the stiff Elaine ditched (temporarily, as it turns out) at the altar. And Sarah's acid-tongued, smoky drunk of a grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) was aging seductress "Mrs. Robinson." The setup allows screenwriter Ted Griffin to have his cake and eat it too. He gets to make a de facto 30-years-later sequel to The Graduate, but can't be accused of directly defiling Nichols' film. But here's where the story gets really weird: Sarah realizes she might be the biological daughter of Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) — the model for Dustin Hoffman's "Benjamin Braddock." She tracks him down. (And it turns out that he sort of did go into plastics in real life: Beau's a venture-capitalist tech pundit who gets showered with applause for saying pap like, "The Internet revolution isn't coming. It has arrived!") And then — after he assures her he can't be her bio-dad — Sarah tumbles into bed with him. Meaning "the ex-Beau" is either (a) a lying, incestuous pervert or (b) a vaguely sleazy hedonist who's now homewrecked three generations of women from the same family. (Either way, it's hard to root for a relationship where a man actively woos a woman while talking about wooing her dead mother.) Griffin left Rumor Has It… as director a few weeks into filming and was replaced by the past-his-prime Reiner. The result is an intermittently funny but totally schizophrenic piece that might as well be titled When Harry Met Oedipus. Reiner gets relaxed, funny performances out of Ruffalo, Costner, and especially MacLaine, who at this point can make shrugging funny. (Ruffalo's almost as good in a couple of small moments; watch when he checks out his hair during an abortive attempt at mile-high-club sex with Aniston.) And Griffin gets off a few decent one-liners. Here's MacLaine, riffing on Pasadena high society: "That's what happens when you give people everything they want and leave them alone for 100 years." Here's Costner, justifying the unbelievable awkwardness of trying to seduce his non-daughter: "Life should be a bit nuts — otherwise, it's just a bunch of Thursdays strung together." And of course, beyond self-referentially riffing on a Hollywood classic, the scenario raises all kinds of potentially interesting questions. What happens when characters in a May-December romance reunite after they've both passed their respective primes? Are long-term love and remembered passion two different animals? Are families doomed to repeat their mistakes — in this case, with the same guy? But Reiner (and possibly Griffin as well) lacks the vitality to tackle any of this with any vigor, or rigor, or consistency. For every smart performance (Ruffalo, MacLaine), there's a dumb and/or screechy counterpart (Mena Suvari, Kathy Bates). Poor Aniston's character is a ridiculous mess — with daddy issues far too pronounced to be played as light, sitcom-y farce. And after an excruciating scene where everyone screams at each other on the phone for no apparent reason, the movie just kind of dribbles to a close, with three or four back-to-back air-clearing conversations about relationships we barely know — or, in the case of Costner and Aniston, barely comprehend. Warner's DVD release of Rumor Has It… offers a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English, French). Surprisingly, extras on this release are limited to the film's theatrical trailer. Keep-case.
Mike Russell

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