The Object of My Affection
Director(s): Nicholas Hytner
Writer(s): Wendy Wasserstein
Reviewed by: Ian Evans on
Release Date(s)Apr 17, 1998 - Wide
Nicholas Hytner’s film The Object of My Affection tries to explore the fragile connections between love, sex, and friendship. Hytner asks, “What kind of love underpins a permanent relationship? How dependent is it on sexual passion?”
In The Object of My Affection, Jennifer Aniston plays Nina Borowski, a social worker who meets George Hanson (Paul Rudd) at a party and inadvertently informs him that his boyfriend, Dr. Joley, (Tim Daly) is about to dump him for a younger man. When the relationship does break up, Nina offers George a room in her apartment. That arrangement bothers Nina’s boyfriend Vince (John Pankow) who wonders why he can’t move in instead. When Nina becomes pregnant by Vince, she decides that she wants to raise the child with her best friend, and gay roommate, George. Though initially the arrangement looks like it will work well, Nina’s unrequited love for her roommate leads to a series of confrontations and questions that the two must answer for themselves.
The Object of My Affection tries to be a good picture but comes across as a little too light and inconsequential, which is inexplicable considering its pedigree. The director, Nicholas Hytner, is one of Britain’s most lauded theatre directors and earned four Academy Award® nominations for his film directorial debut, The Madness of King George. The writer, Wendy Wasserstein, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1989 for her play The Heidi Chronicles. Their material holds much promise, as all of the characters deal one way or another with unrequited love, but it feels dragged down or interrupted by needless “action” moments like a rollercoaster montage. Perhaps, given their backgrounds, the creators should have done it on stage, where needless scenes would have been excised and the focus would have been on discussion and self-exploration.
I did find all the acting to be quite good. It was great to see Jennifer Aniston stretching her acting legs outside the confines of the ensemble comedy of Friends, and she’s definitely in the lead for being the most lovable member of the Friends cast. I think she’s currently tied with Courteney Cox in the other Friends race: Who will have a film career after the show? Aniston, as Nina, is tender and sympathetic and there are moments when a mere flicker of her cheek or a look in her eyes conveys something much deeper. Jennifer Aniston has some excellent work ahead of her.
Paul Rudd, who we’ve previously seen in Clueless, brings warmth to the role of George, Nina’s gay roommate, who seriously considers sharing a life of parenthood with Nina. Being a parent feels to him like a natural extension of the child-caring he provides as a teacher and his friendship with Nina only strengthens his choice, but that choice and its later testing seems too quickly made as if we were watching the typical world-is-ending-no-it’s-not storyline of your average family sitcom. His portrayal of the homosexual roommate is not in the least bit stereotypical. As director Hytner said, “…sexuality, in the sense of sexual preference, isn’t a problem at all, at least for the gay characters. There are no limp wrists and no slit wrists.”
The supporting cast is uneven. John Pankow, who’s great as Cousin Ira on Mad About You, portrays Vince, the father of Nina’s unborn child. His character is torn between the understanding you would expect from a civil liberties lawyer out to do good and the pain and anger of a boyfriend/father who won’t be fully sharing the child’s upbringing. But you look at Vince and Nina onscreen and understand why she doesn’t want to raise a child with him: there’s no chemistry. Alan Alda is funny in his role as Nina’s brother-in-law, a maverick literary agent named Sidney who clashes with his wife (Allison Janney) as she tries to improve Nina’s position in society, but his character seems to have walked on from the set of a neighboring Woody Allen film after making the wrong turn. Nigel Hawthorne does very good work here as an acerbic theatre critic who helps Nina open her eyes to the truth around her, and he too seems to have come from another film. Unfortunately he comes from the version of The Object of My Affection that might have been, and we wish that the film could have delivered the goods that his performance teases us with.
Again, this film won’t wow people with box-office numbers or nominations come awards time. At times it seems it would have been a better TV movie than a theatrical release. I think it will do well in the rental market and some people will see it in the theatres because of Jennifer Aniston’s popularity. Will you remember it a month after seeing it? Probably not.