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Few Objections to 'Affection'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 17, 1998

  Movie Critic

The Object of My Affection
Jennifer Aniston falls in love with Paul Rudd in "The Object of My Affection." (20th Century Fox)

Nicholas Hynter
Jennifer Aniston;
Alan Alda;
Paul Rudd;
John Pankow;
Tim Daly;
Nigel Hawthorne;
Allison Janney;
Amo Gulinello
Running Time:
1 hour, 58 minutes
Profanity, sexual situations and frank discussion of sexuality
"The Object of My Affection" is not the delightful romantic comedy that the previews would have you believe. Not that it's particularly unfunny either. It's just more wry than funny, more a gently subversive comedy of modern manners than the simpering date movie it seems to be masquerading as.

Playwright Wendy Wasserstein's smart screenplay-which elicits smiles of recognition more often than belly laughs-is on one level the story of a young woman who falls in love with her gay male roommate, but it is also a satire of a very specific segment of contemporary society: upper-middle class New Yorkers and their insufferably liberal ways.

It's a milieu filled with ex-spouses who are all on good terms, where no one bats an eye at interracial dating, where adults freely discuss condom use with teenagers, where different generations smoke pot with each other, and where first-graders identify their religious background by saying, "My mother is a Buddhist, but my father is Ethical Culture." Being gay, of course, is just one more "valid and wonderful choice," in the words of smarmy book agent Sidney Miller, currently negotiating for Sharon Stone's memoirs. That part is played-wryly, wouldn't you know it-by Alan Alda, the epitome of political correctness.

His post-nuclear family tree is complicated, but here's how it looks: Sidney's second wife's half-sister Nina (Jennifer Aniston) is sleeping with-but doesn't love-Vince (John Pankow), while sharing an apartment with George (Paul Rudd), who has just broken up with boyfriend Joley (Tim Daly). Rather rapidly (even for movie time), Nina and George become best friends and then nearly lovers-nearly, that is, until Joley pops back into the scene.

Up until this point, "Object" seems to appeal to that most retrograde and false of fantasies-that the love of a good woman is all that is needed to convert a guy from the Pink Team back to the Blue Team. In fact, when Joley threatens to snatch George away from Nina and undo all her hard work of heterosexual transformation, several audience members sitting near me emitted audible groans, as though the gay Simon Legree had just appeared on the screen.

Nonetheless, the movie gets better (and actually funnier) from this point on, because it ceases to be about just one rather limited idea-will straight girl get gay guy?-and starts to look at the bigger question of what constitutes a family in this age of shifting entanglements. Soon Nina and George's cozy but celibate relationship is straining under new and unexpected burdens, including the appearance in the scenario of George's new boyfriend Paul and Paul's lonely sugar-daddy Rodney (portrayed with poignancy by Nigel Hawthorne).

It's Rodney, in fact, who delivers the film's most crucial line, when he gives Nina the pragmatic advice that could have saved him from his own fate of unrequited love, "Don't fix your life so that you're left alone right when you come to the middle of it."

The viewpoint may not be exactly fresh, but Wasserstein, while tweaking the prophets of tolerance, delivers the heartfelt message that, male or female, gay or straight, black or white, old or young, the important thing is to pick some one person and make it work.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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