It's sad to watch the fresh, photogenic faces of Jennifer Aniston and Mark Ruffalo accumulate so much egg in “Rumor Has It . . .,” a pasty, half-humored melodrama about a woman's right to have a premarital fling.
Sarah Huttinger (“Friends” alum Aniston) is stuck in a dead-end New York newspaper job and having second thoughts about her engagement to Jeff (Ruffalo), a nonthreatening white-collar-type cut from the Darren Stevens mold. Sarah's “early mid-life crisis” cuts deeper than her impending marriage, however; returning home to Pasadena, Calif., for the wedding of her bubbly kid sister (Mena Suvari, a lobotomy in a tennis skirt), Sarah realizes she has nothing in common with her family and no real sense of who she is. (Mom died when Sarah was a little girl, and the wound — we learn — never quite healed.)
For Aniston, “Rumor Has It . . .” feels like a big-budget attempt to synthesize the bone-deep malaise of “The Good Girl,” a task calling for a bit more crafty cynicism than director Rob Reiner (“The Princess Bride”) is able to muster. (Reiner took over directing duties for “Matchstick Men” screenwriter Ted Griffin, who left the project over alleged creative differences with Aniston and co-star Kevin Costner).
By and by, Sarah uncovers a shocking secret about her dead mother: She had an affair shortly before her marriage and was, in fact, the model for the Katherine Ross character in “The Graduate,” that epochal tale of pre-adulthood angst to which “Rumor Has It . . .” bears such an unsatisfying resemblance. Even more unsavory, Sarah's grandmother (Shirley MacLaine) was the model for Mrs. Robinson, the chain-smoking adulteress who first seduces young Benjamin Braddock. (This is a horrible role for MacLaine — nothing but booze jokes and crusty pluck.)
Scandalized, Sarah tracks down the now-middle-aged man — Bay Area Internet magnate Beau Burroughs (Costner) — who slept with both her mother and grandmother, suspecting that he might have unwittingly fathered her. He didn't.
Apparently, that's reason enough to sleep with him, an utterly contrived turn of events that destroys Sarah's credibility as a character we care about and fails to jump-start the movie's moribund pace.
As the offended party, Ruffalo doesn't come out of this any better than Aniston. So lively and dangerous in “You Can Count on Me” (2000), the actor has played male accessories in the past (“Just Like Heaven,” “13 Going on 30”), but never as the doormat he is here.