Coming home to Pasadena for her sister's wedding, Sarah (an immensely likeable Jennifer Aniston) is not looking forward to reuniting with her family. Sulking in the arms of her fiancee Jeff (Mark Ruffalo), Sarah gets a lot more interested in family history when she learns that the famous novel and film "The Graduate" was based on her deceased mother's life. After probing her grumpy grandmother/former Mrs. Robinson (Shirley MacLaine, entertainingly caustic) for answers, Sarah gives up and heads to San Francisco, to meet the man behind all the drama, Beau Burroughs (Kevin Costner), trying not to destroy her own life in the process.
Written by Ted Griffin ("Ocean's Eleven"), "Rumor Has It" (IMDb listing) comes off as a slick, imaginative, independent art house idea rolled into a bloated, Hollywood fat cat comedy, and for most of the running time, it isn't even all that funny. It's a neat idea for a movie, no doubt, but it has found its way into the hands of Rob Reiner, and the man really knows how to destroy a plucky spirit.
Reiner, stuck in a dry patch after 10 years of undistinguished cinema, comes to "Rumor" without any previous ties to the production, making him a simple hired hand. The change does liven up Reiner's direction, and the first act of the film is alive with snappy dialog and a brisk pace. Reiner is careful layering the "Graduate" mystery, asking the audience to have some fun with this quirky script, and encouraging his cast to be a little silly and a little devilish with the material.
As Sarah gets deeper into trouble with her research, the second act of the film turns the comedy into romance, as Beau attempts to woo Sarah with his dotcom money and historical shooting percentage with the women of her family. Here, Reiner starts to put away the comedy in a manufactured way, as though his work getting the audience invested in the characters is done, and now he can really try to go for the heartstrings. Up to this point, Aniston has been an incredible focal point in the lead role, and Costner proves he still has some romantic comedy chops left in him, but "Rumor" has a little too goofy a premise to start taking itself so seriously. Reiner doesn't quite feel the same way.
By the end of the film, the laughs are gone, and Reiner is begging for tears. His old instincts to smother everything with sentimentality come flooding out, and they choke that fun little spark of originality the film was enjoying for a brief moment. True invention is crushed by Reiner's steamroller direction, and his abilities to capture whatever it was that made Ted Griffin want to write a screenplay like this are lost. We're left with a movie that's serviceably entertaining, but doesn't come out to play nearly enough.
Filmfodder Grade: C+