The Object of My Affection
Screenplay : Wendy Wasserstein (based on the novel by Stephen McCauley)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Jennifer Aniston (Nina Borowski), Paul Rudd (George Hanson), John Pankow (Vince McBride), Amo Gulinello (Paul James), Nigel Hawthorne (Rodney Fraser), Alan Alda (Sidney Miller), Allison Janney (Constance Miller), Timothy Daly (Dr. Robert Joley), Steve Zahn (Frank Hanson)
Imagine "When Harry Met Sally," except Harry is gay and Sally is pregnant by an ex-boyfriend she can't stand, and you have the rough scenario of "The Object of My Affection." The movie stars Jennifer Aniston as Nina, an open-minded but emotionally fragile counselor at a community center, and Paul Rudd as George, an openly gay first-grade teacher who dresses well and has a great sense of humor and charm to spare.
Nina and George first meet at a dinner party given by Nina's step-sister, Constance (Allison Janey) and her powerful literary agent husband, Sidney (Alan Alda). Nina is currently dating Vince (John Pankow of TV's "Mad About You"), a Marxist-leaning lawyer (how's that for an oxymoron). Nobody in Nina's family likes Vince, and it doesn't seem as though she much likes him all that much herself. George, on the other hand, is living with long-time lover Dr. Robert Joley (Timothy Daly), a Bernard Shaw scholar who, unbeknownst to George, is about to dump him.
Although they have exchanged only a few sentences, Nina offers to let George stay in the extra bedroom of her Brooklyn apartment after Joley breaks up with him. She and George quickly become great, platonic friends, and their relationship eventually nudges Vince out of the picture. When Nina becomes pregnant by Vince, she decides to ask George to live with her and help raise the baby.
All this seems like a wonderfully progressive and broad-minded set-up -- the family as each individual defines it. In fact, "The Object of My Affection" might be the ultimate postmodern romantic comedy. Postmodernism, with its doctrine of what makes you feel good is good, and its insistence on the autonomy of personal choice and the elimination of tradition and moral judgment, suits the material perfectly. Every character, in at least one point in the movie, makes some kind of statement about how whatever one wants to do is what is best. The only character who shows any resistance to such a lifestyle is Constance, and the movie makes her out to be an name-dropping elitist snob.
However, all is not as perfect as it first seems. Platonic friendship begins teetering on the edge of sex, and then George falls head over heels for another man, right when Nina is falling in love with him. George then completely ignores Nina in favor of newfound love Paul (Amo Gulinello), a theatrical actor who displays the depth of a leaking kiddy pool. This is one of the film's major flaws -- we have to accept that an intelligent man like George risks his friendship with Nina because he prefers the company of a cheeseball like Vince. The movie seems to be saying that sex is stronger than platonic friendship, unless we are to believe that George actually finds emotional and intellectual stimulation in Vince.
"The Object of My Affection" took almost a decade to make it to the big screen, after being bounced around by numerous film studios, directors, and stars. The screenplay, by playwright Wendy Wasserstein, taken from the 1987 novel by Stephen McCauley, shows obvious signs of constant re-writing. Although the movie maintains a certain level of interest, at times it feels thoroughly scattershot, especially in dealing with its characters. Director Nicholas Hytner ("The Crucible") does what he can, but the movie is never really funny or touching -- it's just kind of perplexing because you can see from the onset that the surrogate family set-up between Nina and George just can't work.
However, the movie attempts to support Nina's whacked decision to raise the baby with George by making Vince into a complete cad, which he doesn't really deserve. Vince is obnoxious alright, but the treatment he gets from Nina and George is repulsive. As mentioned above, George's character is troublesome in its own right because his sweet gay persona turns decidedly cold in the last third of the film. And Nina is left stranded, so desperate for a decent man that she doesn't even care about anything approaching normalcy.
Unfortunately, the movie saves its worst for last: the sitcom-like happy ending, where five years quickly pass by and everybody turns out happy. The scene directly preceding the close almost signals a sad, but realistic ending in the vein of "Chasing Amy." However, because this is supposed to be a progressive but ultimately cheerful romantic comedy, Wasserstein wraps it all up in a neat package. The gays stay gay, the straights stay straight, and Nina still manages to maintain a relatively progressive, non-traditional lifestyle.
©1998 James Kendrick