Object of My Affection, The (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

The Object of My Affection, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen McCauley, is a pleasant romantic comedy that asks (and tries to answer) questions about the nature of love, sex, family, and friendship. And, while some of the solutions are a little facile, the film nevertheless succeeds, due in large part to a luminous performance by Jennifer Aniston and the effectively-developed central relationship between Aniston's Nina Borowski, a pregnant twentysomething heterosexual, and George Hanson (Paul Rudd), a gay man in the same age range.

In most movies, friendships are the equivalent of cinematic side orders. Especially in contemporary productions, almost every main character has to have a best friend. This facilitates character development and allows secondary interaction. Rarely, however, is friendship the point of a movie. That's not the case in The Object of My Affection, which, although it is a little about sex and love, is much more about the undemanding, casual affection that builds between real friends. The chemistry between Aniston and Rudd is perfect in establishing this relationship. They have a real camaraderie which is only occasionally spiced up by a hint of sexual tension.

George and Nina meet at a dinner party that neither of them is enjoying. They soon discover that they have a great deal in common, and the fact that she's straight and he's gay makes them ideal candidates for roommates. Once George's current relationship with a egotistical doctor (Timothy Daly) comes to an end, George moves into a bedroom in Nina's Brooklyn apartment. The two quickly become best friends, with a closeness that is so extreme that, when Nina becomes pregnant by her boyfriend, Vince (Mad About You's Ira, John Pankow), she tells George first. Problems arise, however, when Nina begins to fall for George while he simultaneously becomes interested in a young actor (Amo Gulinello).

Jennifer Aniston's movie career has proceeded along an interesting trajectory. She broke into the big screen business in Leprechaun, a low-budget horror flick that she would probably prefer to forget about. Following a meteoric rise accompanying her participation in TV's Friends, she gave a plastic performance in Edward Burns' She's the One. In her first feature starring role, Picture Perfect, she showed hints of the charisma that has earner her a legion of loyal fans, but not until The Object of My Affection has she truly sparkled. As Nina, Aniston not only displays a surprising capacity for both comedy and drama, but she shines with the kind of star quality that only a handful of current performers exhibit. The Object of My Affection is clearly better because of her, not in spite of her.

Nina's platonic/would-be-romantic opposite, George, as portrayed by Paul Rudd (Clueless), is likable. This isn't a standout performance, but Rudd is good enough to convince us that his character feels genuine affection for Nina. Alan Alda, who has a supporting part as Nina's brother-in-law, provides a fair share of humor in an openly-comic role. And Nigel Hawthorne once again proves his strength as an actor by fashioning a memorable individual out of what is little more than a bit part. Hawthorne's Rodney Fraser is the kind of sad, lonely man who effortlessly captures one's pity.

Many aspects of The Object of My Affection are not new to movies. In fact, the central theme, which struggles with the similarities and differences between sexual and platonic love, has been more fully explored in recent historical features like Carrington and Mrs. Brown (ideas presented in the former bear an especially strong resemblance to those developed here). On the contemporary side, Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy travels a similar path (albeit to a different destination) with Chasing Amy, about a straight man who falls for a lesbian. The one thing that all of these films have over The Object of My Affection is an edge – each of them tries something a little unconventional and risky, while this movie attempts to be a crowd-pleaser.

This is apparently director Nicholas Hytner's push to make a mainstream Hollywood movie. The respected British director, whose best-known effort is probably The Madness of King George, has a keen sense of character and a good feel for the details of a friendship, and these are the reasons why The Object of My Affection, which has a pleasant (but not superlative) script, work. For, while many of the secondary relationships are sketchily-developed and occasionally hard-to-swallow, the connection between George and Nina is so strong and believable that it draws us into their world and allows us to root for the seemingly-improbable happy ending.

Object of My Affection, The (United States, 1998)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 1998-04-17
MPAA Rating: "R" (Sexual Content, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1