As muddled in most respects as its title, “Rumor Has It… ” begins with an intriguing premise — a young woman discovering that her mother and grandmother provided inspiration for the novel-turned-film classic “The Graduate” — but it devolves into a bland romance spiced with too little comedy. The one grand spark comes from Shirley MacLaine as the salty, boozing incarnation of Mrs. Robinson, but an older crowd curious about the nostalgic hook will be disappointed with the other aspects of the pic, while undemanding young femmes more likely to buy into the underlying true-love-versus-settling scenario could be a tough sell. Facing those obstacles, this “Rumor” should pass quickly.
Pic started out as the helming debut of scribe Ted Griffin, who still gets writing credit, but he was replaced behind the camera early in the shoot by Rob Reiner. In any event, some of the deficiencies appear to stem from what didn’t make the final cut. Vital story elements — beginning with why the protagonist is so disenchanted with her life as a newspaper obit and wedding writer — are missing. In this case, with a 97-minute run time, a little more might actually have been more.
Billed as being “based on a true rumor,” pic opens with a preamble about old-money Los Angeles’ suburb Pasadena and how “The Graduate” was legendarily drawn from real events involving a 21-year-old man who was seduced by a 42-year-old woman, only to later indulge in a fling with her soon-to-be-married daughter. In this telling, though, the girl returned and married her fiance, instead of running off with her paramour.
Flash forward to 1997 (chosen rather arbitrarily to establish the requisite spacing from “The Graduate’s” 1963 publication), and Sarah (Jennifer Aniston) is traveling with her own fiance, Jeff (Mark Ruffalo), from New York to Pasadena for her sister’s wedding.
Alas, coming home stresses Sarah out, since she always feels out of step with her bubbly sister (Mena Suvari, in what amounts to an extended cameo) and laid-back dad (“Six Feet Under’s” Richard Jenkins). It’s only when her tippling grandma Katharine (MacLaine) begins spilling the beans about Sarah’s late mom that a thought dawns on her: Maybe she isn’t related to these people, but rather the love child her mom spawned on a reckless, pre-wedding excursion to Cabo.
At this point Sarah turns amateur sleuth, seeking out a friend of her mother’s (an uncredited Kathy Bates) and then tracking down her mom’s lover, Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner), whose initials even match those of Dustin Hoffman’s character in “The Graduate.”
Beau turns out to be a dreamy tech mogul, and once concerns about him being dad are dispatched, Beau and Sarah quickly segue from a few too many beers into an unlikely third-generation romance. (This might threaten to give too much away were it not all revealed, somewhat unfortunately, in the movie’s trailer.)
Suddenly, Sarah faces her mother’s dilemma: A safe but not terribly exciting marriage (after all, Jeff won’t even have sex in an airplane bathroom), or fleeing into the arms of the new (or rather, old) Beau.
There’s a germ of an idea here, but Reiner and Griffin race through the plot beats so rapidly that poor Sarah seldom has time to breathe, which also describes the movie. As such, Aniston comes off her femme fatale experiment in “Derailed” with a more comfortable version of her “Friends” persona, but other than showcasing an impressive array of frocks, she never settles down enough to offer more than a shrill whine and pained expression.
The earlier time frame feels equally rushed, dealt with via a series of off-hand comments about the prospects of the AOL-Time Warner merger or chatter regarding the Internet. Again, if these areas are going to receive such short comedic shrift, why even bother?
Costner brings a breezy charm to his crucial if relatively modest role (he doesn’t show up for 35 minutes or so), though there’s something vaguely creepy about how quickly things move from “Are you my dad?” to “Where are my clothes?” Moreover, the movie’s take-away message feels unconvincing, perhaps because so little foundation is laid in creating worthwhile relationships.
“Rumor Has It…” fares somewhat better on a technical level, as the manicured lawns and lavish parties evoke mild memories of “The Graduate,” along with its notion of secrets and betrayals lurking beneath the meticulous landscaping of suburbia.
Still, production design only goes so far, and when Katharine snarls, “You want more out of life? Get in line, kid,” an alternative version of that admonition applies to the film — that is, if you want more out of movies, perhaps it’s best to avoid this line.