Just in time for the Oscars, along comes Rumor Has It, my nominee for the most purposeless movie of 2005.
Ostensibly a comedy -- a shrill, witless one, with copious banal sentimentality -- its funniest thing is the list of seven "executive producers" in the opening titles. That's enough cooks to spoil gruel. I'm sure each one had his or her own special reason for wanting to make the movie. I just hope they all used condoms because we wouldn't want genius like this reproducing.
The premise is that on Dec. 31, 1962, a 21-year-old stud began an affair with the rich, 42-year-old, Goldwater-loving Pasadena society wife who was also the mother of a high-school classmate, and then dumped her six months later for a weekend fling with the woman's daughter on the eve of the daughter's wedding. He told all of this to his best friend "Charlie Webb," who turned it into a book called The Graduate, the story of a 21-year-old who -- well, that story you already know.
Trouble is, the real Charles Webb published The Graduate, his first book, in the fall of 1963, and since then he's said that it was a fantasy, not a memoir. But let's say it actually happened. Unless Webb wrote his book, found a publisher and got it into print all within four months, the entire premise of Rumor Has It (clumsily directed by Rob Reiner) is one big cheap contrivance.
We learn about this Graduate back story in an opening sequence. Then it's 1997, where the stud has grown up to be a dot-com millionaire (Kevin Costner) with damaged testicles (seriously, this is a significant plot point). The older woman is now a surly grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) whose neurotic granddaughter, Sarah (Jennifer Aniston), is engaged to a very understanding lawyer (Mark Ruffalo). At the wedding of her ditsy younger sister, Sarah puts two and two together and comes up with five (this movie's age math is awful, and I caught at least two anachronisms). Is the lover/millionaire her biological father? Did her mother's and grandmother's affairs with him really grow into The Graduate? No and, we're asked to believe, yes, respectively.
MacLaine is amusing in Rumor Has It, but only because she talks dirty and pretends to over-imbibe. She earns the movie's only laughs, sometimes with a line, and often with just a gesture. As for Ruffalo, Aniston and Costner: He's too good for crap like this, she needs a new act, and he's probably glad to be working again, respectively. And in a cameo, a campy Kathy Bates enters the movie singing "Bloody Mary" and serving them before she tells Aniston: "All women become like their mothers. That's her tragedy. No man does. That's his." By this formula, Rumor Has It is a hermaphrodite.