Jennifer Aniston, who plays Rachel on television's "Friends," may be about to join the ranks of America's great comedic actresses--a line that stretches from Mary Pickford to Helen Hunt. Like Hunt, Aniston is almost beautiful (by Hollywood standards), which is a wonderful thing to be if you're a comedic actress. She looks kind of like Barbra Streisand after the nose job that Streisand has heroically refused. The difference is that Aniston actually seems comfortable with her looks--at home in her own skin. Like Hunt, she excels at playing herself. At least, it seems like she's playing herself. If she's not, she's an even better actress than I thought. And, either way, she's one of those rare actresses who bring stardom down to earth. Of all the friends on "Friends," she's the only one I'd actually like to be friends with. If you ask me, the "Friends" cast has been getting the Hollywood shuffle--lured into minor roles or minor movies and then pronounced unfit for major careers. That Hollywood can't find a place for David Schwimmer or Matthew Perry is Hollywood's failure. Likewise with Aniston, who has to carry Nicholas Hytner's The Object of My Affection to the finish line on her back. Certainly, Wendy Wasserstein's witless script didn't help her out. And Hytner, who comes out of the theater (like Wasserstein), should perhaps return there: He keeps bumping into the fourth wall. Despite all this, Aniston pulls us in--makes us care about a woman who'd rather spend her life with a gay man she likes than throw it away on a straight man she doesn't. I know some gay men who might take her up on the offer. The thing is, could they pull it off? Paul Rudd plays the gay guy who gets dumped by his handsome jerk of a boyfriend (Tim Daly) and winds up in Aniston's extra bedroom, despite having just met her. Though the movie tells us rather than shows us, he and Aniston are soon launched on one of those passionate gay-straight relationships where anything seems possible until you actually try something. But these two won't give up. They're soul mates, if not bedmates, and when Aniston gets pregnant (by her regular boyfriend), it only ups the ante: She wants to raise the child with Rudd, who's always dreamed of being a daddy. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, since surprise is about all the movie has going for it, but I will say that things finally kick into gear when Rudd finds...a new boyfriend. "There are no limp wrists and no slit wrists," Hytner has said in defense of the movie's representation of gays. To tell the truth, a limp wrist might have both livened things up a bit and challenged the audience a little more. Rudd's character seems designed not to offend anybody, gay or straight; he's been scrubbed clean of any blemishes on his personality. At least he's allowed to have sex with another guy, which is more than I can say for the gay guys in My Best Friend's Wedding, In & Out and As Good as It Gets.
In taking on the possibility of romance between straights and gays, The Object of My Affection has wandered into a political minefield--the same one that was nearly reduced to rubble by Kevin Smith's Chasing Amy. Yes, the movie trips over a few small bombs. But its heart, if not always its head, is in the right place.