An early scene in Rumor Has It... captures the film in microcosm: Jennifer Aniston, playing a toxically neurotic obituary writer, tries to cope with her anxiety over visiting her parents by sneaking into an airplane bathroom for a quickie with fiancé Mark Ruffalo. The resulting attempt at sex at 36,000 feet is awkward, belabored, unconvincing, tonally incoherent, and above all, unfunny. Like the film itself, Ruffalo and Aniston exacerbate a bad, unfeasible idea with clumsy execution, exerting a whole lot of energy and effort for very little payoff.
Set in 1997, Rumor is predicated on the promising notion that both the novel and film versions of The Graduate were based on the real-life family of Jennifer Aniston's character, a jittery, thirtysomething journalist in the midst of a profoundly annoying existential crisis. On the verge of announcing to her wealthy family that she's gotten engaged to the unnervingly perfect Ruffalo, Aniston becomes obsessed with the notion that Kevin Costnerthe ostensible model for Dustin Hoffman's Graduate characteris her real father, and seeks him out. After establishing that he isn't her dad, Aniston continues a multi-generation family tradition by tumbling into the sack with Costner, whose Internet-rich dreamboat character combines the resources of Bill Gates with the laconic slacker charm of a Zen beach bum.
Somewhere buried deep within Rumor lies a wickedly funny, Oedipal-tinged black comedy along the lines of Spanking The Monkey, with some priceless riffs on The Graduate. But few traces of wit or subversion remain in Rob Reiner's latest, which suffers an identity crisis all its own. Pitched uneasily between brittle comedy and earnest drama, the film is redeemed only by Shirley MacLaine's ferocious performance as the tartly cynical voice of experience, and by Nellie McKay's clever songs, a combination of originals and covers that strike a balance the film never achieves. Given its premise and troubled production historyscreenwriter/original director Ted Griffin was fired early in filmingRumor Has It... could easily have turned into a world-class disaster, a "fiasco" in Elizabethtown terms. But in the end, a bona fide disaster probably would have been preferable to the lurching, unsatisfying, compromised mediocrity that Reiner delivers.