The Object of My Affection

Gambit Weekly

DIRECTED BY: Nicholas Hytner

REVIEWED: 05-11-98

My mother put it somewhat differently than Mick Jagger, who observed, "You can't always get what you want." My mother phrased the proposition, "Growing up means learning not to want what you can't have." I doubt that mom ever took a meeting with author Stephen McCauley, screenwriter Wendy Wasserstein or director Nicholas Hytner, but their new picture, The Object of My Affection, sure seems informed by the principle she drummed into my head over and over when I was a child.

The narrative in The Object of My Affection concerns a young New York social worker named Nina Borowski (Jennifer Aniston), who keeps looking for love in all the wrong places. Nina's well-connected sister, Constance Miller (Allison Janney), is determined to fix Nina up with a man of wealth and influence. But Nina prefers her romance with pushy legal aid lawyer Vince McBride (John Pankow). Or, at least, she claims to. It's interesting that she won't agree to live with Vince. She does, however, rent out her spare bedroom to gay schoolteacher George Hanson (Paul Rudd) after he is cruelly dumped by his professor lover, Robert Joley (Tim Daly). And therein begin our complications.

Nina is entirely comfortable with George's sexual orientation. She even encourages him to feel free to bring any new boyfriends back to the apartment. But he's nursing a broken heart, and as it happens, he and Nina end up spending a lot of time together. Pretty soon, they come to think of themselves as best friends, and that's where Nina loses her bearings. She likes George so much that she wants him to be something he isn't, and when she learns that George dated and even slept with a girl in high school, she begins to nurse hopes that they can alchemize friendship into romance.

The Object of My Affection gets off to a shaky start. We haven't a clue why George wants to move in with Nina, whom he has just met. Yes, housing is expensive in New York, but even a schoolteacher's salary should cover rent. Once they are sharing space, the script allows the roommates to become far too personal far too quickly. There's no suggestion of even a moment's initial wariness. At this point in the film, we fear we're headed for an inversion of last year's Chasing Amy, where a straight guy falls for a gay girl. And when the picture cuts to some lame comedy about the sex lives of Nina's community center clients and a poke-in-the-ribs joke about the Association of New York Mothers of Latino Lesbians, we prepare ourselves for the worst.

But then, like a runner who stumbles at the starting gun and staggers to the back of the pack while trying to gain her feet, The Object of My Affection rights itself, settles into a briskly comfortable stride and runs a strikingly commendable race. Lesser filmmakers would have settled for fantasy or Sturm and Drang theatrics. Hytner and his team avoid both. The main characters are fully realized, and we come to care for both of them. Moreover, the picture handles its secondary characters with especially agreeable skill. Constance's high-powered literary agent husband, Sidney (Alan Alda), might have been just a name-dropping jerk. But we come to discover in Sidney a core of decency and a non-judgmental affability that no doubt account in significant part for his success. Likewise, other filmmakers might have turned Vince into a villain. But despite his arrogance, Vince is forgiving and fundamentally well-meaning. Perhaps most impressive of all is the work the filmmakers do on Rodney Fraser (Nigel Hawthorne), an outwardly superior and snotty drama critic. Rodney is indeed a cultural snob, but he's also a man of profound vulnerability, considerable wisdom and, in his private life anyway, astonishing compassion. Hollywood seldom bothers with such subtleties, but as a result of them, I find this film an object of a great deal more of my affection than I ever would have suspected.

--Rick Barton

Capsule Reviews
The Object of My Affection
The Object of My Affection
The Object of My Affection
The Object of My Affection

Other Films by Nicholas Hytner
The Crucible
The Madness of King George

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