The sitcom ciphers in ”The Object of My Affection” aren’t characters, exactly. They’re bundles of signifiers who move through the world caroming off each other’s readily scannable traits. How do we know that Nina (Jennifer Aniston), an adorable Brooklyn social worker, is stuck with a boyfriend who’s all wrong for her? Because Vince (John Pankow), her steady of several years, is a pushy, loudmouth jerk with bad hair, ratty teeth, and a smarmy way of needling people about their insecurities. How do we know that Nina has fallen for her new roommate, George (Paul Rudd), a cherubically sexy – and openly gay – first-grade teacher? Because the two become touchy-feely soul mates within five minutes and proceed to take ballroom-dance classes together.
Adapted from Stephen Macauley’s 1987 novel by playwright Wendy Wasserstein (”The Heidi Chronicles”) and director Nicholas Hytner (”The Crucible”), ”The Object of My Affection” has been spun out of the familiar urban coffee-klatch myth that the only guys left who are both attractive and nice have to be gay. There’s a bizarre, pre-feminist masochism to these new women’s pictures: They’re saying that the heroines have been so beaten down by their minuscule romantic options that they have given up even trying to find sex and love in the same place.
When Nina discovers that she’s pregnant (by Vince, incidentally), she makes a revolutionary decision: She’ll have the baby and raise it with George, her new platonic best friend/symbolic husband. George, unfortunately, soon falls for a hot young actor, at which point Nina is forced to spend the rest of the movie confronting the depressing revelation the audience has already come to: that this ”progressive” arrangement is doomed to fail.
Nina, of course, never displays the slightest interest in trying to find – dare I even bring say it? – a heterosexual boyfriend. Instead of gently suggesting that she may be running away from life, the film supports her anxious withdrawal from the dating wars by turning everyone on screen into a one-dimensional cad. But there’s a difference between acknowledging romantic unhappiness and wallowing in desperation. ”The Object of My Affection” is so riddled with cultural stereotypes, woe-is-me neurotic mopiness, and glib therapeutic compassion that, by the end, all it leaves you with is a waxy buildup of falseness.