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by: Scott Renshaw

As I sat watching The Object of My Affection, all I could think was: here is a romantic comedy for everyone who applauded when My Best Friend's Wedding ended with Julia Roberts dancing with Ruppert Everett. I'm not about to delve into the sociology or psychology of friendships between women and gay male pals, but apparently it has achieved a status as part of the urban American zeitgeist. Still…a mainstream romantic comedy about two people whose primary similarity is that they're both attracted to men?

I have to give The Object of My Affection some credit for tackling the subject at all. I just can't give it much credit for tackling the subject effectively. The principal characters are a pair of community-minded New Yorkers, social worker Nina (Jennifer Aniston) and school teacher George (Paul Rudd). When George is dumped by his long-time boyfriend (Tim Daly), he takes a room with Nina, a woman he met just days earlier at a party. George's presence complicates Nina's relationship with her boyfriend Vince (John Pankow), but things get even more complicated when Nina discovers that she is pregnant. Though she decides she wants to keep the baby, she wants a better father than Vince for her child. What she wants, she decides, is George.

Why she decides she wants George is another question entirely. Then again, why Nina wants anything is up for debate. Simply put, there is no character there, nothing which gives us a clue why she does what she does, or what it is about her life that makes George such an appealing alternative to Vince. The perky Aniston can do adorable and wistful in her sleep…and she might as well have been doing exactly that. Though Paul Rudd fills in a few blanks with a pleasant, appropriately confused performance - working wonders with the well-handled moment in which he actually responds to Nina's physical attentions - George and Nina's friendship never feels genuine. It's merely a device set up so two attractive people can get involved in wacky and farcical situations.

Actually, not all that wacky and farcical at all, as it turns out. Between Nicholas Hytner's direction and Wendy Wasserstein's script, The Object of My Affection almost never feels like a comedy. The story is too serious by half, full of tearful or angry confrontations and sincere speeches, with the pregnancy sub-plot a terribly ill-advised decision. Hytner, meanwhile, can never create a consistent comic rhythm to buoy the narrative. Every edit feels jarring, slamming scenes one into the other rater than letting them build to humorous high points. Wasserstein metes out the giggles and guffaws parsimoniously, leading to the impression that everyone involved felt the issues were too serious to warrant making the film funny.

All the emphasis on longing and misapplied affection at least provides a nice role for Nigel Hawthorne, who worked with Hytner on The Madness of King George. As a theater critic unrequitedly infatuated with a young actor (Amo Gulinello), Hawthorne actually makes the film's themes poignant for a moment as he ponders facing his later years alone. Yet even that bright spot further emphasizes the fact that The Object of My Affection is a romantic comedy which isn't particularly romantic or particularly comedic. It's really a half-hearted stab at teasing the same social conventions Chasing Amy successfully trampled all over. After all the soul-searching about the lines between friendship, love and sex, it comes to the safe conclusion that like likes like. And just to be even safer, it gives all the viewers who came to see the female protagonist dancing at a wedding with her gay friend exactly what they wanted.

On the Renshaw scale of 0 to 10 indirect Objects: 4.


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