Invoking the spirit of a classic featurecan be a precarious business for a new movie, inviting inevitable comparisons.It's something that Rumour Has It' -whose plotline was inspired by The Graduate, Mike Nichols' far more spirited, witty anddaring film - does at its peril, falling flat not only when stood next to the1960s Oscar winner but also on its own terms.
It may enjoy decent businesswhen it opens in the US on Dec 25 through audiences attracted top the marqueenames - and only dimly aware of what Mike Nichols' film meant to severalgenerations of filmgoers. But strong seasonal competition may ensure it willnot be around for very long, with prospects in overseas territories even less promising.Ancillary however should fare better.
Like The Graduate, Rumour Has It' is set in ritzy Pasadena, California,a wealthy suburb on the outskirts of Los Angeles. The time is 1997 - or 30years after The Graduate hittheatres.
The new film strains to drawparallels between the two pictures. Like TheGraduate's unorthodox hero, Benjamin Braddock, 30-year old Sarah Huttinger (Aniston) is confused about who she is and whatshe wants from life and despite being secretly engaged to Jeff (Ruffalo), she is getting decidedly cold feet (shades ofRunaway Bride).
In town with Jeff to attendher sister's wedding, Sarah learns from her grandmother, Katharine (MacLaine) that Sarah's own mother - who died when Sarah wasnine - experienced similar anxieties and ran off with another man the weekbefore she married Sarah's father.
From other scraps ofinformation, Sarah surmises that her mother was the inspiration for thecharacter of Elaine in The Graduate -making grandma Mrs Robinson
To confirm the story, Sarahflies to San Francisco to meet the "real" Benjamin Braddock, BeauBurroughs (Costner). Almost immediately Sarah falls into bed with him, onlylater considering that he might be her biological father.
Director Rob Reiner, replacing screenwriter TM Griffin finds hisinstinct for romantic comedy failing him here,, as itdid in the even less appealing Alex AndEmma (2003) a few years back.
Aniston's forte is comedybut she is hampered here by the script's exceedingly lame humour, as well as aplot that demands she engage in some unbelievable behaviour (for example shehas sex with a man she knows has slept with her mother and her grandmother - andmay even be her own father).
The script tries to make theaudience believe that Sarah does not consider this possibility until after sheand Beau consummate their flirtation.
Furthermore, while Sarah mayseem to be the black sheep of the family, she does not come across as an overlyrebellious type who would want to purposely hurt or shock her family.
Kevin Costner gave a terrificperformance in last year's The Upside Of Anger but here he is at the mercy of a poorlyconceived and written screenplay. Beau's attraction to Sarah never rings true,and while his interest could be attributed to the fact that she reminds him ofthe one woman that he truly loved in his life - Sarah's mother - the scriptnever suggests as much.
Mark Ruffaloplays his usual, mealy-mouthed, sweet boyfriend early on but strongly impressesin the film's later scenes when he discovers the affair and angrily breaks offhis relationship with Sarah. As Sarah's father, Richard Jenkins gives the mostdignified performance of the lot.
But it is Shirley MacLaine, obviously relishing her acerbic role, whoprovides the only possible reason for seeing the film, even if the scriptproves a dreadful waste of her considerable talents (although she fares farbetter than Jane Fonda did in the dismal Monster-In-Law).
Warner Bros Pictures
Village Roadshow Pictures
International distribution (most)