A sort-of sequel to 1967's "The Graduate," "Rumor Has It..." continues filmmaker Rob Reiner's (2003's "Alex & Emma
") downward spiral. To be fair, he was called in after shooting had begun when screenwriter Ted Griffin (2003's "Matchstick Men
"), set to make his directorial debut, was pulled out after creative differences with the studio. Still, one only has to watch his latest offeringa bland sitcom posing as a star-studded feature filmto wonder just what happened to the guy who once made such classics as 1986's "Stand by Me," 1987's "The Princess Bride," 1989's "When Harry Met Sally..." and 1990's "Misery." "Rumor Has It..." could have been made by anyone and wouldn't have been saved; the material just isn't there.
33-year-old Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston) is an uncomfortable wreck as she and fiancé Jeff Daly (Mark Ruffalo) travel to her hometown of Pasadena, California, to attend bouncy younger sister Annie's (Mena Suvari) wedding. An aspiring journalist whose profession as a Manhattan-based obituary writer is going nowhere, Sarah has always felt that she didn't fit in with her family, including widowed father Earl (Richard Jenkins). The excitement and self-assuredness of Annie as her wedding draws near only exacerbates Sarah's woes. After all, Sarah is five years older and still doesn't feel ready to marry and settle down, despite claiming the opposite to Jeff.
In an attempt to get to the bottom of her hang-ups by learning about her family, she stumbles on to some shocking revelations: on the eve of her wedding, her now-deceased mother ran off with a man named Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner) and had a fling with him before returning to Earl. Even more, Beau previously had slept with Sarah's grandmother, Katharine (Shirley MacLaine). Soon, all the pieces fit together and become clear: Sarah's family was the basis of the novel and subsequent film of "The Graduate." Seeking down Beau, who Sarah mistakenly believes might be her father, leads to a one-night affair with him (the third generation of the family he has slept with), putting into jeopardy Sarah's future with Jeff in the process.
"Rumor Has It..." isn't funny enough to take off as a comedy (the biggest laugh comes during the opening credits when the ridiculously long list of producers fills up the entire screen) and not enough is at stake for it to work as an involving drama. The character-based scenes that arrive in the third act, free of the plot gimmicks concerning "The Graduate," are its best and most low-key moments. A bonding session Sarah shares with Annie and a heart-to-heart talk she has with her father are effective because they take the time to explore Sarah's personal issues and the relationships she has struggled to have all her life with her family members. What we get before this is a lot of uninteresting plot exposition where people either sit around and tell stories of the past, or spout off showy, over-the-top one-liners that would be safe within the constraints of a half-hour television series, but sound cornball in movie-format.
Jennifer Aniston delivers a solid performance as Sarah, better here and in a more comfortable role than 2005's "Derailed
." Sarah, who struggles day in and day out over where her life is headed and what she really wants out of it, is the main character and also the only one with much complexity. Aniston does well in emoting this confusion Sarah feels, and making her sympathetic even when she wanders toward the wrong choices, such as sleeping with the much older Beau.
As grandmother Katharine (aka Mrs. Robinson), Shirley MacLaine (2005's "In Her Shoes
") is as brassy as ever, though her character has been written with broad strokes that confuse acerbic barbs for character development. The sorely underrated Richard Jenkins (2005's "North Country
") and Mena Suvari (2005's "Beauty Shop
") bring a welcome level of gravity to their late scenes as Sarah's father and sister, respectively, while Kevin Costner is basically playing a less textured version of his role in 2005's "The Upside of Anger
." Mark Ruffalo (2005's "Just Like Heaven
," 2004's "13 Going on 30
") rounds out the central cast in yet another second-fiddle love interest role that he has recently been making a slew of. He's affable enough in that kind of part, but capable of so much more.
"Rumor Has It..." tells a thin story that didn't need to be told, and does it in a safe vanilla way that doesn't take chances or adequately explore the correlation between itself and "The Graduate." When it is all over, what the viewer is left with are a few quiet, nice scenes and some lush scenery of the California coast and Wine Countryand that's about it. Otherwise, an understanding feeling of indifference permeates through "Rumor Has It...," a dull dramedy that clearly hadn't been thought out or developed enough before filming commenced.