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Dustin Putman

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Gossip (2000)
2 Stars

Directed by David Guggenheim
Cast: Lena Headey, James Marsden, Norman Reedus, Kate Hudson, Joshua Jackson, Marisa Coughlan, Edward James Olmos, Sharon Lawrence, Eric Bogosian.
2000 – 91 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for mild violence, sexual situations, and profanity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, April 22, 2000.

There was this one rumor that I heard, about this movie named "Gossip," directed by TV veteran David Guggenheim ("NYPD Blue"). Supposedly, it started out a little shakily, but once it got going (at around the 30-minute mark), the pacing, performances, and plot developments really crackled. All elements were building up momentum to the ever crucial climactic moments, and then--like a swift kick in the pants--the final twist startles you and, at the same time, makes you angry and feeling like you have wasted your time.

Brainy Jones (Lena Headey), struggling artist Travis (Norman Reedus), and womanizer Derrick (James Marsden) are students at a posh university who share an even more posh (if that's possible) apartment. It looks like it has the type of extravagantly hip living arrangements that would be made for the cast of MTV's "The Real World." But anyway, one night while the trio are at a party, Jones gets an idea of what they could do for their class project in their Journalistic Ethics class: start a harmless rumor, and then track it down to see how far it spreads, and how the gossip's subject evolves from person to person. While up in the bathroom with a drunk potential one-night-stand, Derrick spies on the wealthy Naomi (Kate Hudson) and her new boyfriend Beau (Joshua Jackson). Both have had too much to drink, and once Naomi passes out on the bed, Beau ends his advances and leaves. Or maybe he doesn't, as the rumor the three start up is that Beau and Naomi had sex, something hard to believe considering that Naomi is known to not put out for guys.

Soon, the news has spread to practically the whole school population, with each person believing something different. Supposed to be a funny experiment, Jones grows more and more guilty when the rumor transforms into something potentially very dangerous, as it becomes believed that Beau raped Naomi, and the police are brought in. Jones urges Derrick and Travis that all three should come clean, confessing to starting something that was far from the truth, but without any textual evidence, none of them can prove a thing. Meanwhile, the lives and futures of Naomi and Beau begin to crumble.

Ultra-glossy and stylishly filmed by cinematographer Andrezej Bartkowiak, from what I've also heard, "Gossip" is sort of like a cross between "Cruel Intentions" and "Body Shots," but without the humor and feeling of the former, and a noticeably giant step up from the vacuous latter. Like both pictures, every shot is picturesquely planned out to look beautiful and atmospheric, a production designer's wet dream; all of the actors are appealing, fairly talented, and physically to die for; and several of the characters are cold, emotionless people who do very bad things but, ultimately, are bound to receive their just desserts.

Where "Gossip" fails is in its fairly empty, rushed screenplay by Gregory Poirier and Theresa Rebeck, which often moves so quickly (especially in the first-third), it's as if you are viewing an outline to a finished product, one in which the figures onscreen have not been fully written or thought out. When, midway through, there is a quiet, one-on-one sequence between Jones and the distraught Naomi, it is a startling shift, but one that comes refreshingly not a moment too soon, and throws the entire second half on a far more successful, taut, and involving course.

Lena Headey and James Marsden both manage to stand out in the central roles of Jones and Derrick, with Headey turning in a sympathetic portrayal of a young woman who realizes her mistakes but fears it is too late to turn things around, and Marsden is every bit her match as her brooding, highly sexual friend-cum-potential-bedmate. Norman Reedus has less to do as the work-starved Travis, the final piece of the three major players. Rounding out the cast in relatively brief, less-developed roles are Kate Hudson (as the confused Naomi), Joshua Jackson (as Beau), and Marisa Coughlan (as Jones' friend, Sheila).

"Gossip" has many intriguing elements that might have equaled up to more in a tighter screenplay, but it ultimately doesn't satisfy once the end credits have begun to roll. And the final turn in the plot simply leaves you angry, as its own contrivances fail to hold up scrutiny upon inspection. I heard all of this through the grapevine, though, and although only a rumor, "Gossip" is an allegedly OK type of movie--a film worth a look if there's nothing better to do (or see), but one than can also afford to be missed.

©2000 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman