Rumor Has It… is a fairly typical Julia Roberts-style romantic comedy with a clever pop cultural twist that gives the movie a jolt of creativity and thematic depth. The typical part: The main character faces great fear about her current relationship, sees the alternative and makes a decision in the end. The clever concept: She learns that her deceased mother, too, wrestled these doubts … and it was all captured in a classic movie.
The movie starts in early 1960s Pasadena. Tedious and forced narration explains that there was once a young man seduced by the middle-aged wife of his father's business partner. He also spent a romantic weekend with the woman's daughter before she married another man just a week later. The entire event was then captured in Charles Webb's 1963 book (and later, movie) The Graduate and began a whirlwind of talk among the gossipy socialites of Pasadena: Is the story true? Who are the real-life Robinsons?
When the movie shifts to 1997 (a year picked for no apparent reason except to make stale references to Bill Clinton and the dotcom era), we meet Sarah Huttinger (Jennifer Aniston). Newly engaged and unhappy in her career, Sarah struggles to figure out who she is, what she wants in life, and what defines her. This wrestling is compounded by having to go home to Pasadena to a family she feels she has nothing in common with. Her soul-searching becomes an obsession after she realizes that her family could have been the Robinsons: Her mother and grandmother may have shared the same lover. Her mom, like her, may have searched for what real love means. And maybe, just maybe, Sarah is the result of the tryst documented in The Graduate—and that's the reason she never completely fit in with her family.
At its best, Rumor Has It… is the female-counterpart to The Graduate: A search for meaning, love and fulfillment in a world where people use each other to selfishly gain their own gain worth and meaning. The movie overturns typical Hollywood gender conventions by featuring a woman who is noncommittal and searching while her loving and solid boyfriend Jeff (the always spot-on Mark Ruffalo) is left to react to her impetuous whims. Both Sarah and Jeff are well-drawn characters—a tribute to both the actors and director Rob Reiner, who is gifted in creating relatable 3-D people in his films. In this movie, each of his characters represents a significant perspective on life.
As this film's answer to Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman's character in The Graduate), Sarah makes a lot of mistakes in her search for meaning and a place to belong. Her entire journey seems to hinge on defining herself through her parents—trying to differentiate herself from them, attempting to avoid their mistakes, but ultimately committing those same mistakes.
Played with sensitivity and playfulness by Aniston, Sarah is both frustrating and encouraging. She learns valuable lessons about love, commitment, family and self-fulfillment. However, she only learns these things by knowingly making the same errors her mom and grandma also made. While encouraging that both Sarah and her mom eventually graduated to a better understanding of life, it's sad that those lessons only came through tough mistakes. Of course, that's all too often reality. However, the film perpetuates a cultural myth that anything goes if you're trying to "find" yourself—selfish sin is okay if you are on a journey to better self-discovery. One line even says, "If this marriage doesn't work out, you can just get a divorce." This film has opportunities to stand against that mindset, but will it? Will Sarah repeat the sins of the mothers? Will she go as far as they did in their searches? Or will she redeem their mistakes by learning from their example before falling into the trap herself?
Instead, what holds the movie's love story together is Sarah's boyfriend Jeff, who understands what love and commitment mean—and he stands unwaveringly for them. He and Sarah's father (Richard Jenkins) are the film's personifications of true love and forgiveness. If not for the great performances each actor gives, it would be easy to see them as weak or assume their actions make no sense. But as we see them wrestling with decisions and thoughtfully choosing love, they become the real heroes in a story about people acting selfishly, impulsively, and carelessly.
Mr. Huttinger and Jeff stand out by juxtaposing two characters we've seen before—The Graduate's Mrs. Robinson and Benjamin Braddock. In that film, they used each other for their own ends—her, to fight getting old, and him, to rebel and define himself. Here, the "real-life" counterparts of these characters are older but much the same. Sarah's grandmother, the supposed model for Mrs. Robinson, is bitter, unfulfilled by life and downright mean. Katharine (played with spirit by a film-stealing Shirley MacLaine) hates that she's old—and anyone who reminds her of it. She's never forgiven her young lover for leaving her and shacking up with a younger model, her own daughter. There's little hope for Katharine because she just can't let go of the past, or that she's no longer in it.
Kevin Costner plays Beau Burroughs, the model for Hoffman's Braddock character, as a lonely, flawed man with regrets. His best years are gone and he's scrounging for anything to fill his emptiness. Perhaps he wishes he'd taken a different path, but instead he looks for answers in the same way he always has: through sex. While The Graduate was his story, this movie belongs to the Robinson women. We see Beau as a sad tool that's used by women to find themselves—because he never found himself.
The movie ultimately affirms love, marriage, and commitment. But with all the good it declares about love, it seems to confuse love with sex, even up to the very last lines. There are some other problems, too. The film feels forced at times—lame jokes fall flat, the ending feels hurried and predictable, and the actions of characters don't always feel sincere or understandable. The movie shines when allowing the characters to just exist in their world together, without the forced and tired romantic comedy plot weighing on them.
The movie also works best when it's having fun with its Graduate ties—characters talk about how the movie changed the real facts, well-known lines are repeated in goofy ways, and those familiar Simon and Garfunkel tunes pop up at just the right moments. Oh, and Rumor Has It… even manages to work "coo-coo-ca-choo" into the dialogue. And that, Mrs. Robinson, is a good attempt at trying to seduce movie fans with even the most tedious of romantic comedies.Discussion starters
- When and how does Sarah's perspective change? What causes her to suddenly change her perspective on who she is, what love is and her relationship with Jeff?
- What do you think happens now to Beau Burroughs? Why?
- How are love and sex confused with each other in this film? How is sex used as a means to fill other voids or needs?
- How have you found yourself? In what ways did you figure out who you were?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material, sexual content, crude humor and a drug reference. The movie is all about who had sex with who, so there's a lot of sex talk. What the MPAA rating doesn't note is language—including taking the Lord's name to vain to mid-level obscenities—and a glimpse of the side of a woman's breast (from behind) as she is getting dressed.
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Copyright © 2005 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 01/05/06
Jennifer Aniston stars in the latest film from Rob Reiner, who has directed such beloved romantic comedies as The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. But apparently Rumor Has It … that the film falls far short of those favorites, just as it fails to capture any of the originality or chemistry of the movie that its characters so often discuss—The Graduate.
Christopher Lyon (Plugged In) is similarly displeased with the mixed messages. "In fact, trampling the film's final positive messages about the need for forgiveness and commitment to make a loving marriage work, it's the ick-factor of Beau's quasi-incestuous multi-generational affairs that lingers as the credits roll."
Mainstream critics are also writing off this Rumor.