Review: 'The Object of My Affection' warrants rejection

April 22, 1998|By JASON MYERS

Jason Myers

I imagine that Wendy Wasserstein, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, saw three films last year: "Chasing Amy," "My Best Friend's Wedding" and "In & Out."

She must have rightly determined she could improve upon the material of all three films because: while each offered its own scrappy charm or jangly wit, none was a polished comedy, nor especially wise regarding homosexuality (strangely, "Chasing Amy," the most crude and vulgar of all three, came the closest to evidencing any general understanding of its subject).

Unfortunately, the result of Wasserstein's cinematic musings is "The Object of My Affection," a dull romantic comedy that combines conventions of several films, including the aforementioned, and seems to have no voice of its own.


If I were writing in the 1950s, I might say that the film was fresh, funny - perhaps even shocking for the way it addressed taboo. But, fortunately for millions, unfortunately for the filmmakers, homosexuality is no longer quite so provocative.

There still seems to be a need for characters like the one Alan Alda (who is becoming typecast as the voice of libertine reason) plays who claims homosexuality is "a valid and wonderful choice." I am certain that must be a watershed for gays everywhere.

Yet without this device - and make no mistake, the makers use homosexuality as a device - "The Object of My Affection" would be even more trite and tired than it already is.

Nina (Jennifer Aniston) meets George (Paul Rudd) at a dinner party given by her overbearing stepsister (Allison Janney). George has unwittingly been dumped by his boyfriend (Tim Daley) and needs a place to stay. Unpredictable and outrageous as it sounds, Nina happens to have a spare room that he can move into.

For reasons that can only be explained by writers whose brains have been depleted by too many double espresso lattes and cellular phone conversations, Nina, a social worker who gives her troubled teenage charges such sage advice as "you got to look out for you" and "I like sex ... a lot," falls in love with George, a teacher at a private elementary school.

When Nina discovers George once slept with a woman (his high school sweetheart, silly Nina), the film assumes the erotic and melancholic dimensions of "Hamlet." Or, more accurately, Danielle Steele's "Hamlet."

Nicholas Hytner, who made a regal debut with "The Madness of King George" and an electric adaptation of "The Crucible," stages all this with as much buoyancy as can be summoned.

For those weary of the films noir resurgent as of late, "Object" is a diverting film pastel. Suffused with pinks and purples as if expectant of Nina's baby - her boyfriend, Vince (John Pankow), not George, is the father - the movie is nauseating to look at.

What's most unbearable about the film, however, are the preposterous coincidences that dispel any chance it might have of developing a mature, convincing story.

When Nina escapes from the Hamptons, where she has been dragged by her sister's family, who should be on the bus returning to New York but Vince and his new girlfriend. (I forgot to mention the scene where they broke up after Nina decided she wanted to raise her child with George alone).

Back in the Big Apple, Nina is walking home alone - as George gallivants around elsewhere with a new (male) lover - and gets mugged.

A handsome and intelligent police officer offers her consoling and a ride home. A week later as Nina talks to Vince (they reconciled) in a park, she meets nobody else than Mr. Police Man, who just happens to be accompanying his young niece and nephew.

All this did not prepare me for the wit and resource Wasserstein displays by pairing him with Nina at the end of the movie. (Sorry to disappoint you perverse romantics, but George remains gay).

The only actor in this whole calamitous cliche-fest who brings any depth, drollness - I dare say, any interest - is Nigel Hawthorne, portraying the mentor of George's new beau. An intellect and theater critic with self-effacing wit, it's a wonder he would allow himself to be in all these turgid theatrics.

Jason is a senior at North Hagerstown High School.

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