A film review by Craig J. Koban
RUMOR HAS IT
2005, PG-13, 96 mins.
Sarah Huttinger: Jennifer Aniston / Beau Burroughs: Kevin Costner
/ Grandma Catherine: Shirley MacLaine / Jeff: Mark Ruffalo /
Annie: Mena Suvari / Earl Huttinger: Richard Jenkins
Let’s suppose, shall we, that you are on your way home to attend a sibling's wedding and, through a series of miraculous events and extreme revelations, you discover that your family was the true life inspiration for one of the most popular films of the 1960’s, if not of all time. This, in a proverbial nutshell, is the premise to the modestly entertaining, charming, and funny lightweight comedy RUMOR HAS IT.
The 60's film in question is one of the seminal works of the decade – THE GRADUATE – the classic that launched the career of the then unknown Dustin Hoffman and concerned the extra-marital affair he has with a women twice his age. The fact that he later falls for her young daughter only spiced up the situation for the young college grad that much more. The man – Benjamin Braddock – and his sexual proclivities with the two women was itself based on Charles Webb's novel THE GRADUATE. Webb’s book, in turn, is said to have been based on a rumored real life family that lived in Pasadena. Apparently, rumor has it that a real life bride ran away with this guy a mere three days before her nuptials and that same guy had a torrid love affair with the bride’s own mother. In the film’s case, the bride’s mother was the now infamous Mrs. Robinson, and the rest is cinematic history.
RUMOR HAS IT takes this real life rumor that was the foundation for Webb’s literary work and the subsequent 1968 film and progresses it to a whole new farcical level. This film details that, yes, this rumor was true and that there actually was a real Benjamin Braddock and a real Elaine Robinson, the latter who actually had a real daughter that also later slept with Braddock. The daughter went on to get married to another man (unlike the ending of the film) and conceived a daughter, who – much like young Benjamin in the film – is going through a bit of a mid-life crisis far earlier than most would. Eventually, she comes face to face with the man her mother had a brief affair with before she married her father. One thing leads to another and the young lady ends up sleeping with the same man her mother bedded thirty some odd years ago. Irony is rarely this thick, folks.
But wait, how’s this for a kicker? The young woman finds out that she was born eight months after her parents were married. Wait a tick…that means…maybe…just maybe...that her mother and father had conceived her a month before they were married. Or, even more disconcerting, the man her mother had an affair with before the marriage is actually her real, biological father! Of course, since she later ends up sleeping with the man, that just might possibly mean that she has had a one-night fling with her own daddy. I will be the first to horrendously cry out, “Yuck!”
Okay, maybe she did not have sex with her real dad, but it is that aura of confused and paranoid suspicion that Sarah Huttinger goes through in RUMOR HAS IT. Sarah (played well by the underrated Jennifer Aniston) is on her way back home with her new fiancé Jeff (new resident nice guy in romantic comedies, Mark Ruffalo). They are keeping their engagement to all a willful secret until the marriage of Sarah’s baby sister Annie (the humorously ditzy Mena Suvari). Why are they holding off such a proud announcement? Maybe they don’t want to steal away the thunder from Sarah’s sister, who is on cloud nine about getting married. Or, maybe Sarah does not seem to want to wear her new engagement ring, to Jeff’s dismay. Or, maybe she is having cold feet about taking the marital plunge?
Anyway, we soon learn that Sarah’s biological mother has long since died. She was the reality-based daughter of the real Mrs. Robinson that had an affair with the reality-based Benjamin Braddock, but instead dropped him like a bad habit and moved back to Pasadena and married everyman Earl (played with an earnest charisma by Richard Jenkins). She then had both Sarah and Annie and later died. Of course, the fact that the mother is dead is a more-than-convenient plot contrivance, seeing as if she was alive in the present she would have no problem at all clarifying Sarah’s future delusions and concerns.
Yet…hmmmm…how delusional and suspicious is Sarah? Some of the film’s early moments make it easy for even the audience to be a bit dubious of her lineage. In an early scene we see Jeff hear of some of the local Pasadena rumors about her family and soon begins to do some math of his own. Quickly, he begins to postulate with Sarah about the true nature of her upbringing. He suggests that perhaps Earl is not really her father after all. Considering the fact that she was born eight months after her parent’s marriage would easily give her some doubts. Even more heinous is the thought that – just maybe – her really father is the man that her mother had the fling with just before her marriage? It becomes quickly apparent that Jeff has rather unwillingly opened up a huge Pandora’s Box for the crazed Sarah.
Since Sarah has become increasingly jaded and obsessed with finding out the truth of her parents, she quickly leaves Jeff and goes on a bit of a soul search. Through a series of events she is able to discover the identity of the reality-based Benjamin Braddock, who in this case is a San Francisco dotcom millionaire named Beau (played in another underplayed and affably droll performance by Kevin Costner). They meet at a convention where Beau was giving a speech and it's one of the more offbeat meet-cutes ever. Now, I use the term meet-cute in the sense that this man just could be her real father, but they soon develop an unmistakable attraction to one another, and why not? Sarah is – after all – Jennifer Anniston, who is remarkably easy on the eyes and Beau is such a amiable, pleasant minded, polite, and charming bad boy figure that he sure is hard to dislike. Eventually, it soon becomes clear that Sarah just might become Huttinger notch number three on Beau’s bedpost, which would mean that she'd be the third generation of her family’s women to sleep with him.
I don’t think that I spoiling anything for you by saying that Sarah does have sex with Beau (the trailers for the film have done that already). How did she end up in the sack with this guy who could be her real father? Well, for starters, he has revealed to her that it is next-to-impossible for him to father any children due to an accident that happened decades ago (I will not reveal any details other than to say three words – blunt testicular trauma). This news, of course, must have really calmed Sarah’s nerves, not to mention her willingness to jump into the sack with Beau. However, things take a disastrous turn for the worst when – at a ball the next night – she accidentally bumps into Beau’s son. What?! How could this be? Beau can’t father children…right? Oh no, but if he can, then – just maybe – he lied and might actually be her father, which would mean that Sarah might have had an affair with her own natural father. Ouch!
Considering the type of sorted history that RUMOR HAS IT had making it to the silver screen, it’s kind of startling how well it does work. Usually, when a film has had a great deal of production woes that usually is a precursor to the film’s downfall. The film’s original director, Ted Griffin (who also wrote the film and other past gems like MATCHSTICK MEN, OCEAN’S ELEVEN, and the dark and twisted RAVENOUS) was originally scheduled to direct and promptly left due to conflicts. This led to an utterly last minute addition of Rob Reiner and, if you look at his recent film resume, his addition to an already rocky production was not a good sign (his last few offerings, like 1994’s NORTH, 1999’s THE STORY OF US, and 2003’s ALEX AND EMMA have not helped bolster a once stellar directorial career). If that was not bad enough, the cinematographer had to be replaced due to his incompetence and some of the actors were also replaced. In hindsight, the notion that RUMOR HAS IT would be anything but a disaster could have invited scornful laughter.
Yet, when all is said and done, RUMOR HAS IT is a simple, agreeably funny diversion; a film that cheerfully marries fantasy, reality (okay, a rumored reality) and fiction into a work that is sort of smart, satirical, sardonic, and entertaining in its own unique ways. The film does have a bit of a slow build-up and its expositional scenes are tedious and lackluster, but once it grabs hold with its central preoccupation (the relationship with Sarah and Beau and her journey to discover her real past), then RUMOR HAS IT is sort of oddly charming and endearing. The film kind of encourages our empathy with its characters, all of whom don’t really deserve our respect (remember, nearly all of them are adulterers), but the performances by all of the leads and the sharp dialogue ultimately wins us over.
Anniston is likeable as Sarah and she is able to pull of the necessary pathos to realistically play a woman who has no clue what is going on around her. Ruffalo, a very good actor, is essentially going through the motions as a wounded male suitor. The film is owned by both Costner and Shirley MacLaine, the latter who plays the film’s reality based Mrs. Robinson and Sarah’s sarcastic, tough tempered, and potty-mouthed grandmother. MacClaine generates some of the film’s best laughs as the tough-as-nails woman with a past she’d rather leave behind and gets a lot of mileage out of her hilarious, deadpanned lines (when the down on her luck Sarah comes knocking at her door, she dryly tells her, “Come in. I'll put on a pot of bourbon.”).
Equally winning is Costner who is demonstrating here - as he did with one of 2005’s best hidden gems, THE UPSIDE OF ANGER – that he is often at his best by playing up to his natural strengths as an actor. He plays Beau with a level of effortless and genuine allure, so much so that he almost sidesteps some of the more odious aspects to his character (when Sarah asks him whether every women in her family has to sleep with him as a right of passage, he responds acerbically, “Well, I don't know if they have to, but they certainly have."). Costner may not get a lot of credit for having range as an actor, but when he is given free reign to play these type of roles, there is no denying his unforced charisma and congeniality.
In an age where comedy after comedy is nothing more that a series of gross-out gags that involve disgusting bodily functions, RUMOR HAS IT kind of appeases to audience sensibilities that yearn for more light-hearted, farcical laughs. The film may not work all of the time and sort of wanders to its conclusion with a thud of inevitability, but it essentially works as a screwball satire that does a good job of hitting the right comic notes. RUMOR HAS IT takes an obvious one-gimmick joke and stretches it out rather successfully with some snappy dialogue, an involving script and some inspiring and hilarious performances. The fact that this film was released at Christmas is revealing; it’s somewhat of a gift to those that are tired of witless comedies with too many pratfalls that involve urine, vomit, and other fluids in grotesque proportions. Taken in the right light, RUMOR HAS IT is fun and lively.