ZERO STARS/**** Image A Sound B
starring Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd, Alan Alda, Nigel Hawthorne
screenplay by Wendy Wasserstein, based on the novel by Stephen McCauley
directed by Nicholas Hytner
by Walter Chaw A fascinatingly unpleasant precursor to NBC's "Will & Grace", The Object of My Affection details the predominantly platonic friendship between a romantically tortured straight woman, Nina (Jennifer Aniston), and a prototypically sensitive gay man, George (Paul Rudd). The unbearably treacly score by long-time offender George Fenton immediately announces by its very presence (and Fenton's very participation) that The Object of My Affection is going to be atrocious, and true to form, it's really atrocious. Yet to say that it's as predictable as it is sickening in its laziness (there's a VH1 music video montage in which our odd couple attends a dance class) would be to downplay the actual visceral "wrongness" of the piece, something that has nothing to do with the subject matter.
A few years ago, director Nicholas Hytner directed the magnificent The Madness of King George; The Object of My Affection plays just like a weird sex comedy/romance directed by the guy who directed The Madness of King George. It is ineffably grimy, each shot marred by a patina of unease and an indescribable ugliness that paints every attempt at comedy as vaguely grotesque. It's as though Hytner has found a strange middle-distance with his camera placement and his pacing that corrupts his films with this overriding sense of noisome disturbance. Easy to pinpoint is its peculiar title and its attendant implications in sexual political discourse as well as its opening sequence, which makes the creepy decision to juxtapose a children's play with a group therapy session at a YWCA wherein an inner city pre-teen muses losing her virginity to her boyfriend.
Less obvious to mark are close-ups of the otherwise wonderful Alison Janney's oddly feral gape sharing time with the stunningly inappropriate repartee shared by George and Nina in majestically uncomfortable social situations. A late introduction of the recently deceased Nigel Hawthorne (as a crusty theatre critic) only serves to heighten the distance the film gains on its increasingly dismayed audience--the key scene of the film, in fact, is one with Hawthorne gazing forlornly from his second-story window at two young lovers in embrace. Is it the idea of warmth seen through glass and at more than an arm's length with a voyeur's rapacious insistence?
Besides the sexual preference bender, The Object of My Affection follows along with the typical will he/won't she intrigues with inappropriate partners, tearful jousts and reconciliations, delightful romantic misunderstandings, surprise announcements on roller coasters, and last-minute boombox-in-the-rain courtship gestures. What's remarkable about the film is the way it's put together: the framing of its shots, the lock-step approach to editing, and that monstrous Fenton score suggest a Nacho Cerda exploitation piece scored by the world's most optimistic organ grinder. The aggregate is a film so uniquely unsettling that it plays a good deal like psychological thriller--hardly the desired effect, I reckon, for a film that wishes to be a When Harry Met Sally for the "Will & Grace" malebolgia.
Fox DVD's anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) presentation of The Object of My Affection is crystal clear and vibrant. Contrast is attractive and black levels (except for a late wedding reception scene that is far too dark) are nicely balanced. The Dolby 5.1 track reproduces Aniston's "Rachel-like" whining and cooing with as much galling purity as Rudd's toneless Stepford inflection. Rear channels get a nice workout during the abovementioned roller coaster sequence, but in a film lacking anything resembling pyrotechnics, the soundtrack mostly splits its time between reproducing Fenton's noxious compositions and trying to accommodate the whining of both Aniston and Alan Alda (as Nina's pop) in one speaker-busting scene after another. A two-minute, full-frame promotional featurette, theatrical trailer (widescreen though unscrubbed), four full-frame TV spots, and trailers for the excrescent The Brothers McMullen, Drive Me Crazy, Picture Perfect, and Simply Irresistible round out the deservedly sparse presentation. Originally published: February 12, 2002.