The movie Rumor Has It..., staring Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Costner, is a delightful comedy about love and sex. However, even though the central theme is sex, the movie artfully tiptoes around the subject and has no on screen depiction of the sex act itself. Like the 1968 movie, Prudence and the Pill, staring David Niven, the viewers know what is going on but have use their imaginations to visualize the sexual action.
Jennifer Aniston plays Sarah Huttinger, an attractive young journalist making her way in New York City. However, all is not going well in her life, personally or professionally. Her employer has her applying her journalistic skills writing obituaries, leaving her wondering if she will ever make her mark professionally. In her personal life, she has found the perfect fellow in another young professional, named Jeff, but, fearing commitment, she decides not to announce their engagement just yet. Flying back to Pasadena with Jeff for her younger sister's wedding, Sarah's life is in a tailspin. Sarah considers herself a 1960s style free spirit and feels out of place in conservative, middle class Pasadena with her widowed father and sister. Then there is the mysterious past of her now deceased mother and her, still living, grandmother (played by Shirley MacLane) who is another free spirit type.
Once in Pasadena it becomes easy to understand why this young lady is so torn and confused. First of all, rumor has it and has had it for years, that her grandmother was the model for the character played by Anne Bancroft in the the 1967 movie The Graduate. The book upon which the movie was supposedly based was written by a young man from Pasadena and this young man supposedly based the book on the actual experiences of a friend of his who went to high school with her mother. Of course, this is all rumor that has been floating around the community since the The Graduate was released. The fact that her father was definitely not the young man played by Dustin Hoffman in the movie, gave credence to those who have argued all these years that the rumors were unfounded and just malicious gossip. However, Sarah still feels like an outsider and cannot reconcile the fact that, emotionally, she feels closer to the character portrayed by Hoffman in the movie than to her rather stogy father.
While the house is a whirlwind of preparation for the wedding, Sarah decides to get to the bottom of what she feels is the mystery of her past and learn once and for all who really sired her. After a little digging she confirms that her grandmother did have an affair with a young man from her mother's high school graduating class and that this young man, Beau Burroughs (played by Kevin Costner), was good friends with the author of the book upon which The Graduate was based. Further, just before her mother married, she suddenly disappeared for a week - she supposedly went to Mexico - and Beau Burroughs at that time was staying at his family's beach home in Mexico. Burroughs is now a wealthy and successful leader of a group of venture capital investors specializing in high tech companies and Sarah quickly tracks him down via the Internet. Discovering that he is speaking at a convention in San Francisco, she flies up and confronts him after his speech. He is very gracious and admits that he was not only seduced by her grandmother, but also that her mother did indeed spend that week in question having an affair with him at the beach house. However, due to a high school football injury which left him sterile, he cannot claim to be her father. He does take her to dinner and, when sparks fly between them, takes her home and to bed with him. After spending the night and following day with Burroughs, Sarah (along with the audience) sees that while he is charming, kind and a man who sees life as an adventure and lives it to the fullest, he is also a shallow person who drifts through life without leaving any lasting legacy. He has been married three times and has an adopted son, whom he and one of his wives adopted (it was her desire to have a child and he did it to please her) but really never took the time to know this, now grown, son. Having spent the night with Sarah, Burroughs now has the dubious distinction of having had a sexual affair with Sarah's grandmother, her mother and herself. Three generations of women in the same family over a 40 year period. However, as he is quick to point out, all three came to him and he accommodated them - he didn't pursue them or seduce them. High minded as this rationalization sounds, anyone familiar with religion knows there are two types of sins - sins of commission where you deliberately do something wrong and sins of omission where you stand by and do not do the right thing. Based upon the movie The Graduate, the Dustin Hoffman character allowed himself to be seduced by the girl's mother so, for the first generation, the female was the aggressor (as well as the older adult) and bears a larger share of the blame. But Hoffman's character was not forced to accept, so we see the start of Burroughs lack of character in his simply going along with this. With regard to the mother and Sarah, both were cases of young women (much younger, but still an adult, in the case of Sarah) coming to him in a time of distress and his taking advantage of their vulnerable emotional condition to have sex with them. They were not blameless, but Burroughs is definitely not the type one can depend upon to do the right thing. Character does count and Burroughs obviously lacks it.
Still confused, Sarah returns to her father's home and, over a cup of coffee in the kitchen, finally has a long overdue heart to heart talk with him. In a scene lasting only a minute or two, the exciting freewheeling life style of the 1960s comes head to head with the far more mundane middle class value system and comes up short. Yes, her father admitted he knew right from the start that Sarah's mother had spent that week in Mexico having an affair with Burroughs. Why did he still marry her? He loved her and, besides, she chose to come back and marry him and not stay and live with Burroughs. But why did she choose to come back. Again, Sarah's father had the answer, given to him by her mother and that was that while a life with Burroughs would have been full of adventure and excitement, there was no foundation upon which to build a life. With her father, Sarah's mother saw the opportunity to build a life and family. Finally, the question that had bugged Sarah all of her adult life. Why does she drive a car with abandon, unconcerned with speed or safety , while every time she rides with her father he always stays at or below the speed limit and is obsessed with safety? The answer again was simple, he drove that way whenever Sarah or her sister were in the car because he didn't want anything to happen to them - when driving alone, his style was more relaxed like Sarah's. At heart he has always been the same free spirit as Sarah, it was only out of love for her and her sister that he put that part of himself aside and put their needs and well being ahead of his own.
In that chat with her father Sarah suddenly understands the difference between erotic love, with its sexual tension and promise of adventure and discovery but which is basically inward focused on "me", and agape love in which the sexual tension is considerably lessened and the focus is outward toward your partner. Erotic love is like the first gear on a car which has the power and thrust to get the car moving but is quickly abandoned for higher gears once the car is moving. Agape love is the cruising gear which lacks the thrust and power of first gear but gets you to your destination. Once the "me" is satisfied with the novelty of Eros there is nothing left other than to move on to the next conquest. That is why all Burroughs had to show for his life was three failed marriages and a son he hardly knew. While Sarah's mother had her short, but happy marriage and two beautiful daughters as her legacy.
Fast paced and laced with humor and humorous situations, this movie is both an entertaining comedy and a feel good film without the tears.