Reel Opinions

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Rumor Has It...

Remember when we used to look forward to Rob Reiner movies? There was a time when the guy seemingly could do no wrong as he churned out a string of memorable films that included Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride, A Few Good Men, and Misery just to name a small few. But then, along came an infamous little movie called North, and ever since then, he just hasn't been the same. While his latest film, Rumor Has It..., is far from bad and mildly entertaining for what it is, you just can't help but think the film is below his abilities and a far cry from the memorable films that used to hold his name. Compare this film to Reiner's earlier romantic comedy effort, When Harry Met Sally, and you'll see just how far his career has fallen in a fairly short time.

After a brief and unsuccessful attempt at trying her hand at a different kind of role in Derailed, Jennifer Aniston returns to the romantic comedy genre as Sarah Huttinger, a woman who has been an emotional wreck ever since her boyfriend Jeff (Mark Ruffalo) proposed to her recently. Although she said yes, she is beginning to question her true feelings and what she wants out of life. The action starts when Sarah brings Jeff to her family's home in Malibu where her younger sister (Mena Suvari) is getting married. Sarah's family has always made her feel uncomfortable, as she never felt like she fit in with the rest of them. Her suspicions of not fitting in may prove to be more accurate than she ever imagined when she learns that her late mother may or may not have had an affair with another man named Bill Burroughs (Kevin Costner) the week before she married Sarah's father. What's more, the same Bill Burroughs may have also slept with Sarah's feisty, chain-smoking grandmother Katharine (Shirley MacLaine). The deeper Sarah digs into this possible family secret, the more she begins to realize that her family could have been the inspiration for the classic novel and film, The Graduate, as the original author was a college friend of Mr. Burroughs. Her obsession in uncovering the past that no one in her family seems to want to talk about will put both her own family ties and her future relationship with Jeff on the line.

Despite a clever idea that ties the film's plot into that of a classic film, Rumor Has It... is a strictly by-the-numbers romantic comedy that does little to offend, while at the same time doing absolutely nothing to stand out from the crowd. The screenplay by Ted Griffin (who was originally going to direct, but was dropped due to differences with the studio) aims for sitcom-style laughs with dialogue that sometimes sounds a bit too clever to be coming out of a person's mouth. The tone is appropriately light and breezy throughout, but also wants to keep us guessing with continuous plot twists that make us question whether or not Sarah's hunches about her family's past are true or not. I personally felt like the plot was kind of jerking me around at times. One character is introduced solely to fool us into thinking the story is going one way, only to disappear and never be seen or mentioned again when it's revealed he's simply a red herring meant to throw us off. The movie squanders most of its characters in much the same way, using them only as a convenience to move the story along, or never saying what they know about the past, because if they did, everything would be explained right away and the movie would be over.

It's a shame that the film uses the characters frequently as a tool of the plot, because when they're allowed to just be themselves, there are a number of genuinely touching and funny moments. Most of these come during the last half, when Sarah has private talks with different family members about her feelings on everything that's happened to her up until that point. Here, Aniston and the other actors get to truly create real characters that the audience can relate to. That's not to say the entire film is bad up to this point. There are a number of funny lines throughout, most of them given by MacLaine. But I still could not sometimes help but feel I was watching a 100 minute long sitcom projected on the big screen. The film's later, more poignant scenes hint at a movie that could have been even better. Only the film's climax between Sarah and her fiance Jeff rings false and kills the more serious and believable mood that the ending was heading toward. Even by romantic comedy standards, the ending is a bit hard to buy.

Although a script such as this is mostly unworthy of such name talent, there are some good performances here. Jennifer Aniston is immediately likable as Sarah, and brings a good "everywoman" quality to the role that makes her easy to relate to. Kevin Costner is strong too, even if his performance seems a bit too similar to his own in The Upside of Anger. Mark Ruffalo is always a welcome sight in any film, but I really wish he'd start choosing more challenging roles. Anyone who has seen him in films like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Collateral knows that he is a very fine actor, but he seems content to pretty much play the exact same nice-guy role in romantic comedies like 13 Going on 30 and Just Like Heaven. As mentioned earlier, the film pretty much belongs to Shirley MacLaine. Not only does she get all the good lines, but she brings a much-needed edge and somewhat of a mean streak to a movie where everyone seems way too perfect and nice for their own good sometimes. With October's In Her Shoes and now this, MacLaine is having quite a year when it comes to performances.

I don't want to stress only the negatives of Rumor Has It..., as this is not a bad movie. It's just the film's script does not match the talent that has been connected to it. There are some laughs to be had, but I also wanted more honesty in the storytelling, one where the characters were real people instead of tools used solely to move the plot or throw us off track. Those of you looking for escapism entertainment most likely will not care. To those of you, I say go and have fun. I guess I just remember a time when the words "A Rob Reiner Film" meant a little bit more to me.

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