Imagine that Charles Webb's 1963 novel The Graduate was based on a true story involving a well-to-do Pasadena, Calif., family. Imagine that the famous Dustin Hoffman movie based on the book sprang from the actual experience of a confused young man seduced by an older, married women. Then suppose that young man did indeed fall for the woman's engaged daughter but, in a departure from the established story, the daughter chose to go through with her marriage instead of running off with the film's hero. Such imagining is what the writers of Rumor Has It... have done, opening their film with the caption, "Based on a True Rumor."
Since the death of her mom when she was just 9, Sarah Huttinger has never really felt like she fit with her country club family. She dreads her sister Annie's wedding, because it means bringing her new fiancé back home with her to Pasadena. She knows she loves Jeff, but she's afraid of settling down and making a mistake. Her sarcastic grandmother, Katherine, suggests it runs in their family, letting slip that Sarah's mom got cold feet before marrying her dad and ran off to Mexico with some guy.
Realizing she was conceived just before her parents' wedding, Sarah worries that "guy" might be her real dad and sets out to find him. Eventually, she uncovers the truth: Her grandmother is Mrs. Robinson, and her mom's pre-wedding affair was with Beau Borroughs, the inspiration for The Graduate's protagonist. But is he her father? If not, should she sleep with him?
Premarital and adulterous sex choke the family's history, but the value of marriage is eventually upheld. Several characters describe the benefit of making a commitment to spend your life with someone you truly enjoy and care about, even if the relationship lacks the magical excitement and perfect happiness so many people expect marriage to bring. Sarah's dad affirms that he and her mom shared a very loving marriage, in spite of her premarital affair, because of just such a commitment and a lot of forgiveness.
Speaking of clemency, a deeply hurtful betrayal is forgiven onscreen. And several characters make the choice to let go of unrealistic romantic expectations and commit themselves to healthy, married relationships.
Annie's wedding takes place in a church, and we overhear a brief homily on the nature of marriage. Sarah wonders if priests are allowed to watch TV as she looks for a way to view a tape of The Graduate in the church. In describing his history, Beau states that he "did a lot of drugs and joined a [Hindu] ashram" before learning to be "present in every moment."
Sex is one of the movie's central themes. A couple begins an attempt in an airplane bathroom before they both lose interest. (Nothing explicit is shown.) Sarah wears a small nightgown on a visit to Jeff's room in her dad's house, but she ignores his advances. When Sarah finds Beau—the man who slept with her grandmother and her mother and may, indeed, be her biological father—she asks if he wore a condom with her mom and much is made of the fact that he is sterile as the result of a high school trauma.
After a drunken night on the town with the much older Beau that involves kissing and dancing, Sarah wakes up naked in his bed the next morning. The camera glimpses her back and most of the side of her breast as she dons a robe. When Beau's sterility is later called into question, Sarah freaks out saying, "I had sex with my father" and, "We are sick, sick people." But he insists it isn't so, and they resume their passionate kissing. Through a translucent wall, Sarah is viewed showering.
Beau describes the moment in a high school soccer game in which a player "kicked the wrong ball." Jeff recalls a painful childhood car accident that cracked his head open.
Crude or Profane Language
In addition to about five uses of Jesus' and God's names for swearing, profanity includes a few s-words, vulgar slang for sexual anatomy and a handful of milder profanities. Sarah's colorful grandmother, the inspiration for Mrs. Robinson, provides most of the crude content. She grabs her own crotch and a young dance partner's buns.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Sarah's grandmother smokes and drinks heavily throughout the story—in a manner reminiscent of Anne Bancroft's Mrs. Robinson—and nearly everyone in the cast drinks at parties, weddings, dinners and while hanging out. Sarah and Beau get drunk together.
While Rumor Has It... might earn points for its unique concept, it loses most of them for execution. Once Sarah puts all the pieces together connecting her family to The Graduate, the movie tumbles into an oddly disconnected relationship drama.
A big part of the problem is that nearly all the characters grow less likable the more we get to know them. In spite of her obvious mommy-hunger, Sarah's indecisiveness and fumbled choices slide from endearing to exasperating. Once jilted, Jeff turns into a pouting whiner, drawing a big unintentional laugh when comparing his emotional pain to a childhood car accident. Shirley MacLaine's grumpy grandma gig wears thinner in the last act. And Kevin Costner's charms feel sleazier the longer we're given to ponder his choice to bed a much younger woman who also happens to be the daughter and granddaughter of past conquests.
In fact, trampling the film's final positive messages about the need for forgiveness and commitment to make a loving marriage work, it's the ick-factor of Beau's quasi-incestuous multi-generational affairs that lingers as the credits roll.