Gossip

Come to Manhattan for the gargantuan, affordable lofts—stay for all the free drinks!
★★★★
☆☆☆☆☆
Released: 
2000
Director: 
Davis Guggenheim
Starring: 
Lena Headey, James Marsden, Norman Reedus, Kate Hudson
The Setup: 
Three students start a rumor as an experiment, not realizing the damage it might cause.
Discussion: 

Okay, so after Swimfan I decide I need to see a ton more like TOTALLY SERIOUS teen issue movies, when I recall this one, which lingered for maybe a day in theaters, and looked to be a carbon-copy Cruel Intentions, just maybe a little more pointless. Lay it on me!

So I am delighted to enjoy a full minute and a half of trippy credit sequence, as we have multiply-exposed desks with words that double over themselves in weird patterns. For a moment I think: “Holy Shit! Is this movie going to be TRIPPY???” But alas, no. Anyway, Lena Headey as Jones is studying late [she’s supposed to be the smart one], when she is called to the nightclub by her two roommates, Derek, plays by James Marsden, and Travis, played by some guy. While this is happening she delivers a superfluous voice-over about how it all started with a temptation they couldn’t pass up, or something.

At the club, Derek tells a long lie to the bartender, so we can realize what a good liar he is, and also contemplate the question of what is truth is a world built on… whatever, you fill it in. Then they are in what is apparently a media studies class led by Eric Bogosian, who hectors his students to express opinions. Derek makes an impassioned speech for gossip, saying that it is storytelling, and interpreting all history from cave paintings through the ancient Greeks to the present day to illustrate that what we call history could also be considered gossip. The film does not consider the question of whether this college douchebag could possibly know enough about world history to really offer an informed opinion, but continues as Derek asserts that gossip is one of the fundamentals of mankind’s existence as social creatures, and concludes “I like gossip. It’s fun.”

That night the roommates once more convene at this enormous nightclub in the Meat Packing District. Jones, waiting in line to get in, is passed by Naomi, played by Kate Hudson, who bypasses the line and gets in instantly, because she is rich. This would conversely mean that Jones is NOT well off, a character circumstance undermined by the rest of the film, as we will soon see.

Okay, now I have read a few other reviews and have learned that we are supposed to understand that Derrick is rich, and his two roommates are poor. That would help to explain—I said "Help To," as it doesn't really explain—how this group can afford to hang out in these LUDICROUSLY cavernous and expensive nightclubs in the Meat Packing District. Now, that might be surprising enough, but what I was REALLY fascinated to learn is that exclusive, high-end nightclubs in the Meat Packing District that let college students in ALSO have bars lined with SERIOUSLY 40-65 pre-made Cosmopolitans that are simply available for the taking! [see above pic, far left.] Because you see, these bars don't make money on drinks, they make money off the cool vibe. I was also heartily laughing at the whole idea that much of anything FREE happens in Manhattan [and, as I can attest to from personal experience, whenever anything free does happen in Manhattan, even if it's Estelle Getty reading the phone book, 30,000 people show up]. This film was—painfully obviously—shot in Canada, but you know, I think they should have visited Manhattan at least ONCE before setting a movie here.

Okay, so Jones hears third-hand that Naomi spread a rumor that she was sleeping with her professor, and is pissed. She tells her roommates that she has an idea for a project—they should start a rumor and follow its progress. Then Derrick goes upstairs with this girl from his class, and they end up in this bathroom, about to have sex on the counter. I was just about to comment on how the restrooms in exclusive NYC nightclubs NEVER have anyone else in the bathrooms, when we discover, even more improbably, that this nightclub has a giant bedroom that patrons can just walk up into. Yeah, kids, all this is happening in Manhattan RIGHT NOW! You should totally move here—if only for all the free drinks they're giving out!

Anyway, the girl passes out and Derrick watches as Naomi and her boyfriend Beau [Joshua Jackson] come up to use the readily-available bedroom. He watches as Beau puts the moves on her, but she says she's so drunk, tells him clearly to stop, and—then we cut away. What REALLY happened? Why, we just don't know. So on the walk home, during which I learned to my surprise that NYC's downtown has fires burning in steel barrels every few feet, Derrick tells Jones what he saw in the bathroom—that Naomi passed out, and Beau left. But he suggests that they spread the rumor that Beau did it anyway, and this can be their project. Jones agrees, and they set about making it happen. Now at this point, based on the fact that the movie specifically DIDN'T show us what actually happened, I guessed a key twist—but you'll have to read in the spoilers to find out what it was.

Now, this film is a little bit like Urban Legend—and not just because they were filmed on the same campus—in that it tries to pretend that the ONLY thing happening on campus is stuff related to the film's theme. In Urban Legend, the students attended classes devoted to urban legends, and never discussed anything else in their spare time. Here, students discuss gossip in class, and do NOTHING outside of class BUT gossip. So we have a "telephone game" sequence in which the rumor is spread, demonstrating how it morphs and gets more extreme—here the movie gets slightly trippy again—until finally the story is that Beau raped Naomi, and Jones rushes back to the loft to tell the others of her success.

Now, I have been champing at the bit to tell you about our heroes' off-the-chart LUDICROUS loft, but you noticed how I exercised restraint, so that it would not run in together with the stuff about the LUDICROUS nightclubs. The loft, however, leaves the nightclub in the dust. These three college students live in a space that is approximately 100' X 100', on TWO levels, with brightly-painted surfaces, artfully industrial rusty iron pillars, thick wire banisters, window exposures on four sides, a full bar with at least 20 martini glasses, AND an African Art collection. Now, one of the things about Manhattan is that NO ONE has all that much space. Millionaires can at best get a floor-through loft half the size of what we see here. So, apparently Derrick's parents are Bill Gates-level wealthy, which makes us wonder how Derrick ended up with these friends, and how his parents must have paid for a multi-million-dollar decorating job for their son's apartment. Hey—who's to say it couldn't happen? And the poor filmmakers don't seem to realize that this completely undercuts anything serious they were trying to say with this film. Anyway, at long last, ladies and gentlemen, I present—THE LOFT:

So not long after this we see Travis, played by Norman Reedus, who seems able to do little more than squint in a "cool" way, blowing up a ton of photos of Naomi on his expensive computer photo-editing equipment, and arranging them on the wall of his LARGE-SCALE MULTIMEDIA PHOTO LAB, which, wouldn't you know, is IN the loft! Why don't they have the Batcave in there, too? At first it's like "WHY is he doing this? Is he dangerously obsessed with her?" but soon it becomes apparent that he is a MULTIMEDIA ARTIST. I won't even go any further into that.

So one day Jones is chillin' at some café when who should come sit RIGHT next to her AND discuss her allegations of rape, but Naomi and Beau. Small world, huh? So then Jones goes home and is like "Oh my god, guys, this is like, so, so serious!" but they blow her off, and next we see Naomi approaching some office [law or student affairs, we'll never know] and telling them "I KNOW he did it." Then Beau is under inquest and says "She was drunk, so I left," to which the investigators say "She told you NO," and instead of sensibly saying "Right—that's why I left, like I said," he starts saying "Look, it wasn't rape!" and other things that only get him in deeper. You'll have to get used to a lot of characters talking past each other for the sole purpose of extending the running time and creating complications. Of course, a talented screenwriter would be able to make this stuff happen without having it all ring so utterly false, but what we have instead is Gregory Poirier. I dislike his screenplay so much I wanted to mention him by name. Then Jones like, totally wants to go tell someone about the rumor they started, but both Derrick and Travis convince her to keep quiet. All of this happens in more of that talking-past-each-other dialogue, and while Jones is sitting on a couch that is custom-painted with a portrait of the three roommates. Then Beau comes into a restaurant after Naomi and ends up looking like he has assaulted Naomi's friend—played by Marisa Coughlan of Freddy Got Fingered. Once more, Jones just HAPPENS to be right there. Then follows the stupidest academic debate between the sexes it is possible to imagine, but apparently it was the best poor Mr. Poirier could come up with. Then Jones decides that she's had enough and goes over to meet Naomi in person. I'm not sure if they have taken Beau into custody yet—despite the lack of any evidence—but that happens. Anyway, Jones and Naomi talk, and Jones learns that Naomi never spread that rumor back when about her. Oh, and by the way, despite Naomi's being so rich that she arrives to nightclubs by private car, she lives in a common dorm room [still ridiculously huge]. Anyway, Jones is going to spill the beans, and has no sooner mentioned the name of Derrick when—

SPOILERS > > >
Naomi FREAKS! So she KNOWS Derrick! So he's doing all this to get back at her for something! So she goes back to the loft and confronts Derrick, who claims he doesn't remember Naomi at all, and then Jones and Derrick loudly have sex on the counter in the middle of the loft, while Travis listens from the other room, as he stares at pictures of Naomi. Ladies and gentlemen, WHAT is happening here? Anyway, the next day Naomi takes a TAXI from New York City to Danbury, Connecticut. This means she spent approximately $250 for a trip that could have cost her $10 on the convenient rail line that runs to Danbury several times a day—and I guess the director and screenwriter don't think this affects our view of her character AT ALL. Anyway, once there she consults the school yearbook—being too stupid to know how to research archival newspapers, apparently—and just by chance comes across a ton of pictures showing that Derrick and Naomi used to be a couple. Yeah, she took a cab all the way to Danbury for THAT. So she comes back, confronts Derrick again [nice move, after you just slept with him], saying that someone in Danbury told her that he raped Naomi—which of course you'll recognize as gossip, and this will like TOTALLY make you think! Derrick says Naomi accused him of rape and ruined his life [yeah, looks TOTALLY ruined] and yes, he wanted to hurt her. He says maybe it was a mistake to spread the rumor, with all that damage it's caused, but "we're in college. Now's the time we should be making mistakes."

Jones goes to whoever is handling Naomi's case, but is shut out. She finds that Derrick stalked her there. Then Derrick beats the shit out of Travis! At this point I was getting pretty juiced, that this would turn out to be that the roommate in their midst is a homicidal stalker, but not so much. So Derrick stops by Naomi's dorm room to tell her that they're even—he ruined her life before, and he ruined her life now, and guess what else? Beau didn't rape her—Derrick raped her. THAT is what I guessed as soon as I noticed that the movie didn't show us what actually happened. In here, the glimmers of what could have been a pretty saucy movie occur, but don't come to fruition.

Okay, are you ready for the shocker WITHIN the shocker? Travis comes home and says Naomi is DEAD! She killed herself after Derrick left! Now here's a moment where you may also guess something about the ending of the movie that I won't reveal yet. Then James Edward Olmos shows up to question Derrick, saying it's now a HOMICIDE investigation! Then Beau turns the gossip on Derrick! Then Jones goes to Bogosian's office hours—alright, NOW we know some shit'll get shaken up! NOW the professor is involved!—Then Derrick tries to throw the blame on Travis by showing the cops Travis' art installation—that was seemingly set up ONLY for this moment! Then you think—wow, these kids sure hit the booze and cigarettes a lot! Then Derrick attacks the booze and the furniture! Then Travis suddenly has a gun on Derrick—then they struggle! Then there are so many shots of the gun pointing away from them as they struggle, you KNOW that Jones is gonna GET it! And she does! Then Derrick blurts out that he did rape Naomi! And suddenly—they have it on tape! And Jones is still alive—it was a blank! And Olmos is there! So is Bogosian! So are Elmo and Big Bird! And most of all, so is NAOMI! Only she's a rigid corpse. No, silly, she's still very much alive, which was the second little secret I kept from you, easily guessable by the fact that we never actually SEE her dead. Then Derrick says "What will people say about me?" and Travis responds "It's only words. How bad could it be?" Ohhhh, SNAP!
< < < SPOILERS END

It was utterly dreadful, in terms of quality, yet I must say I enjoyed sitting through it. Not as much as the similar Swimfan, which was a total slam-dunk, but more than the similar, slightly-less-insipid Cruel Intentions. First, there's the whole attempt to make something [gossip] that really isn't all that serious into something that is MONUMENTALLY serious, which is always a guarantee of a good time. Then there's the whole question of who these characters are, and seriously, trying to figure out their economic status can puzzle you through the whole movie. Then there's the amusement of the nightclubs they go to, what with their arrangements of numerous free cocktails and readily-available bedrooms, and the roommates' loft, both of which should amuse viewers nationwide, but will constitute a LAFF RIOT to anyone who lives in New York. And then of course, all the gossiping, which is exactly what you expect out of the movie. I also got a little extra frisson out of the idea that one of the roommates turns out to be a psycho, but unfortunately it wasn't developed too much in that direction. And then of course the whole fun that can be had with movies about teens and stupid college students. Yeah, this was entertainment with a capital E.

The director of this, Davis Guggenheim, went on to direct—are you ready?—An Inconvenient Truth, for which he won an Oscar! The wretched writer went on to write National Treasure II, and also wrote and directed Tomcats. I sort of hate him as a PERSON, based on his screenplay here. And yeah, that's about all I have to say about this movie. If you like movies about dumb youngsters that try to make serious topics out of relatively trivial matters—YOU ARE CALLED TO GOSSIP.

Should you watch it: 

Sure! It's ludicrous, idiotic fun!