Sunday, June 3, 2012

Graduating Into Something Mediocre: Rumor Has It . . .

The Good: A few lines near the very end
The Bad: Unextraordinary acting, Flat characters, Formulaic plot
The Basics: In a disappointing romantic comedy, Jennifer Aniston's character Sarah learns she may be the lovechild of the guy from The Graduate. Sigh.

When Harry Met Sally and Love Actually (reviewed here!) are two romantic comedies that are traditionally well-reviewed that I love. They are in my permanent collection, I watch them periodically, I enjoy them quite a bit. I mention them because lately I've seen a lot of romantic comedies or dramadies that border on romantic comedy that have been disappointing, vacuous or unsurprising and unfulfilling. I give every film, c.d. and book I encounter a fair, open-minded chance, but lately, I've been running into a lot of duds. The latest in that series is Rumor Has It . . .

Thirty years after the affair that inspired The Graduate, Sarah Huttinger is going through something of an existential crisis. While at her sister's wedding, while covering up her own engagement, Sarah learns that her grandmother, Katharine, is the woman who Mrs. Robinson was based upon and that the man who she seduced also seduced Sarah's mother. This causes Sarah to believe it is possible that Beau Burroughs might be her biological father, so she hunts him down.

Romantic comedies often hinge on chemistry. Chemistry is key to convincing an audience within ninety to 180 minutes that two people who are just coming together could be romantically involved. Hollywood creates for the audience and society the myth that relationships are not complex and can be condensed into an experience that is encapsulated within a ridiculously short period of time. Even given that common conceit, too many movies fail to engage the viewer simply based on lack of chemistry.

Rumor Has It . . . is plagued by a lack of chemistry all around. There is no palatable chemistry between Sarah and her fiancé Jeff. When we meet Beau, he is not terrible charismatic. Beau and Sarah have no discernible chemistry. And, though it was probably intended, Annie (Sarah's sister) and Scott have no chemistry either. It's pretty much impossible to sell a romantic comedy when none of the characters/actors have chemistry with one another.

I'm going to start the blame here with the actors. Mark Ruffalo plays Jeff and from his first appearance on-screen, my thought returned to the age-old problem of directors casting the Hollywood Beautiful d'jour actor of middling talent. Ruffalo fits this mold and it's unclear what his appeal is. This is the first movie I've seen Ruffalo in and he did not spark any desire to see him in any other roles. His delivery is bland, his affect is dull and he has no on-screen chemistry with Jennifer Aniston.

Conversely, Ruffalo is given the best line of the entire movie, though it comes far too late (almost at the very end) for the viewer to care and be impressed by his character for it. Moreover, there is nothing spectacular about Ruffalo's delivery, so the credit for the line has to go squarely to writer Ted Griffin.

Kevin Costner plays Beau and his performance calls to mind a gag from Family Guy. Chris, the dim son on the show, states, "I haven't been so confused since the ending of No Way Out!" and the shot immediately changes to him walking out of the movie wondering, "How does Kevin Costner keep getting work?" Yes, Rumor Has It . . . brings that question to mind as Costner is neither charismatic or even interesting as a character that pretty much demands being both. His performance feels surprisingly woody and Costner does not add anything to the role to sell the character.

Jennifer Aniston plays Sarah and it does not work for her. She proved to me her acting talents in Friends With Money, which might have been mood-terrible, but she was great. Aniston plays a character too much like her strong but occasionally befuddled Friends character Rachel. She exhibits no chemistry with either Costner or Ruffalo, which pretty much sinks the story.

Director Rob Reiner gets a lot of credit from me. He directed both When Harry Met Sally and the fabulous The American President. He is a man with some real talent and he has proven it time and time again. Rumor Has It . . . is not his best work. He doesn't bring out anything in the cast, does not make the story pop in a visually interesting way nor does he manage to sell us on any of the leads as being talented individuals.

Ultimately, Rumor Has It . . . just does not pop from the writing to the acting to the directing. It is not engaging and the events that are supposed to lead to a cathartic end fail to because the supposed catharsis is based on the concept that two of the characters are good together. Alas, we will hold out for better.

For other works with Mark Ruffalo, be sure to visit my reviews of:
The Avengers
Date Night
Shutter Island
The Kids Are All Right
Where The Wild Things Are
Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind


For other film reviews, please check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the movies I have reviewed!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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