(Davis Guggenheim, USA, 2000)


There are hundreds of unknown, cheaply made, wildly trashy films in video shops which exploit such politically sensitive issues as sexual harassment in the workplace or intimate relations between students and teachers.

However, only glossily mounted or earnestly trashy movies on the same subjects actually make it on to our cinema screens.

Gossip is one of these rare and highly enjoyable high-profile events in the annals of cinema trash. It seeks to be deep and meaningful about everything at once: relationships, education, infotainment, class, psychopathology and postmodern art. It is full of beautiful young things who furrow their brows and say serious things like: “What if the lie is more real than reality?” – doubtless inspired by their teacher (Eric Bogosian), who runs his pseudo-televised seminar along the lines of an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.

The lie in question is a juicy piece of gossip deliberately spread by roomies Jones (Lena Headey), Derrick (James Marsden) and Travis (Norman Reedus) for the sake of an assignment in communications studies. Derrick believes that all journalistic reportage is really just gossip at heart – and good fun, too. So he begins the rumour that, at a party, Beau (Joshua Jackson) raped his girlfriend, Naomi (Kate Hudson).

This fabricated story soon spins out of control. And disturbing aspects of its circulation emerge. Is social envy driving Jones? Why does Naomi freak at the mere mention of Derrick’s name? And that crazy collage art produced by Travis, with its obsessive images of voyeurism and violence – surely that can only be the product of a sick mind?

This is the sort of opportunistic mystery-thriller plot that strives to hint at every unimaginable horror, and impugn all available characters as potentially perverse or trigger-happy.

There hasn’t been a movie quite like this since Flatliners (1990), whose director, Joel Schumacher, serves as executive producer here. Gossip, with its escalating twists and turns, provides mounting, hysterical laughter for incredulous viewers – and yet never once drops its po-faced pretence of gravitas.

© Adrian Martin September 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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