The Netflix Report

Movie reviews from my Netflix queue. Highly personal and opinionated!

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Monday, May 29, 2006

Rumor Has It

Rumor Has It would be a good airplane movie. If you were in a middle seat on a long flight with lousy airplane sound, watching this on a little screen with terrible color fidelity, and there was a fat guy snoring next to you, it wouldn't be a bad time filler at all.

On the other hand, if you had paid $8.50 to see this on the big screen in a theater during its first run, I can understand how you would hate it as much as the critics did.

The home environment being somewhere between those two extremes, I end up falling between them in my enjoyment and recomme ndation level as well. It's not really good enough to recommend, but it's not bad enough to write a scathingly funny and vicious attack piece.

The best I can suggest is to watch the trailer for the film. (Newbies, "trailer" is the term for a coming attractions ad made up of edited together snippets from the film.) The trailer for Rumor Has It pretty faithfully tells the entire movie in 90 seconds, including ALL of the good gag lines. You can save yourself a time investment of some 112 minutes and 30 seconds and not miss much. It's a masterpiece of editing.

For those of you still reading instead of watching the trailer, the plot (there are no surprises to spoil) starts with Jennifer Aniston fairly closely reprising her Rachel character from the first season of "Friends." She is insecure, unsure about her recent engagement, and terrified of having to face her family because she doesn't feel she fits in. In short order (again, telegraphed before the opening credits, so I'm not ruining anything for you) she finds out that the book and movie of The Graduate seem to have been based on actual events in her family. She sets out to find the real life version of Benjamin Braddock and find out if he is her biological father. Romantic complications (which aren't very complex) ensue and there is a warm-hearted moral at the end, as there must be in this kind of fluff piece.

Aniston does what she needs to with the part, which isn't really very much. It's written like a TV sitcom and she plays it like a TV sitcom... emotions pouring out as called for by an arbitrary writer and then switched off in time to hit a joke punch line that isn't quite as funny as you feel it might have been in more capable hands.

Shirley MacLaine plays Jennifer's grandmother (the alleged Mrs. Robinson) and brings a lot of life and vitality to her sitcom lines (Isn't it funny to hear old ladies use dirty words? Ha ha.) She manages a trick of chewing the scenery without doing much overtly, which is fun to watch. I had the vague feeling that she knew the writing was garbage and decided to just go for it anyway, which is admirable.

Kevin Costner as the putative grown-up Ben surprised me with a very naturalistic and quietly competent performance. I was quite taken with his character and his reading of the guy. I don't know if it's because Costner is older and wiser, or if he just does better when removed from post-apocalyptic scenarios and historical period pieces, but for the first time I saw him as a good actor.

Mark Ruffalo plays Aniston's fiance in a thankless role that he cannot salvage no matter how hard he tries (And he tries all over the place. It's almost painful to watch him trying so damned hard.) Richard Jenkins gives a nicely understated performance in his role as Jennifer's dad. You'll notice I refer to almost everybody as "Jennifer's something"? That's how the movie frames the story. It's all Jennifer, all the time. Other characters exist only as foils to give her something to do. By the way, she dresses divinely throughout.

In typical sitcom fashion, we are presented with a contrived problem that seems more troubling to the protagonist than it does to us. She then compounds the problem by acting in an inexplicable manner to cause more troubles for herself. A lesson is learned and everything wraps up neatly and quickly before the final commercial (or in this case, end credits).

I absolutely hated the first twenty minutes of the film, as they set up the incredibly obvious situation with clumsy voice over narration and contrived, unrealistic dialog and behaviors. Then as MacLaine, Costner, and Jenkins came in to lend a more mature and controlled hand I warmed up to the story. Finally as they moved to the requisite happy ending and more voice over, I remembered why I hated it at the beginning.

Technically, the movie is something of a mess. Director Rob Reiner has cameras shooting the actors from several points of view and keeps cutting abruptly back and forth, often with continuity problems or tiny mismatches that make it evident the scene is assembled with bits from multiple takes. Writer Ted Griffin has trouble creating believable human dialog because he is always busy setting up the next joke or dramatic revelation and lesson.

My readers in California will enjoy the photography of Pasadena, San Francisco, the Napa wine country, and the Peninsula coast (they say it's Half Moon Bay, but I have my doubts...).

Save this one for a day when you are home sick with the flu and want some easy material to keep you company and not force you to think.

Parents: There is some light comedic swearing by MacLaine, plenty of references to infidelity, an implied sexual tryst (oh yeah, one implied and one unsuccessfully tried), and some "kicking the balls" jokes. No nudity or violence.

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