Delulu Diaries

This forgotten romcom has Paul Rudd playing gay, and Jennifer Aniston playing delusional

In the 90s and 2000s, there were so many movies that seemed destined, for no reason at all, to dominate cable television. For instance: do I have any proof that the 1985 Sarah Jessica Parker vehicle Girls Just Wanna Have Fun exists, other than the fact of it airing at least 250 times on TV in 2002? Some movies, it seems, were made to play on repeat.

That said, not all of these films are in the same class. For every Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, there are 5-10 duds that you’d catch on cable once, watch enough of to have it stick firmly in your brain for the rest of your life, and promptly change the channel in search of better fare. Onesuch dud is the 1998 Jennifer Aniston Paul Rudd vehicle The Object of My Affection, a film that asks: why doesn’t every gay guy drop what he’s doing to help Jennifer Aniston raise a baby?

This was a movie I saw on cable halfway through and hated—but that didn’t stop it from taking up real estate in my mind for the next 20-odd years. When you’re desperate for representation, even Paul Rudd playing a gay man being forced to pretend to be bisexual will somehow do it for you.

Because that’s what The Object of My Affection is about. Elementary school teacher George (Paul Rudd) meets youth counselor Nina (Aniston) after George has just been kicked to the curb by his obnoxious boyfriend. The two become roommates, but soon Nina starts wanting more from George, and she’s not shy about making her feelings known. It doesn’t matter that Nina has a (straight) boyfriend—that boyfriend won’t cuddle up to kiki and watch Gene Kelly movies with her like George does! And when Nina discovers she’s pregnant, it’s George, not the boyfriend, that she asks to be the father.

Listen, I can see where they thought they were going with this: Bohemian lady meets gay man and falls hopelessly in love while undergoing Life Changes. But the problem here—and I bet you can already guess what it is—is that when you position Nina’s love for George as the emotional focus of the film, it leaves little to no room for George to have his own feelings, his own character development, and most importantly, his own hot gay sex.

That tush!

Because the elephant in the room here is that Paul Rudd is Paul Rudd—he’s famously cute and dreamy, and while this wouldn’t be the last time the Apatow favorite would play gay (2018’s Ideal Home casts him in a relationship with Steve Coogan), it would be his most explicit queer role to date, 10 years before the 2009’s bro-romcom I Love You, Man. In Object, Rudd’s character is left—aptly—rudderless. He’s just kind of drifting along, not standing up for himself, and fully trying to play into Nina’s fantasy of him being bisexual.

The problem is, George is not bisexual. When he tells Nina about his high school girlfriend, however, she takes this as proof that she can “turn” him, and creates a fantasy around the two of them that is just destined not to play out. Things get heated when George finds a cute boy to take home, and Nina yells at him for not wanting to be with her. And we’re supposed to side with Nina on this one, which makes no sense if you’re a gay person watching this movie.

Now I’m not saying that straight women don’t fall in love with gay men all the time, or that it’s somehow wrong to do so. Of course it’s not: feelings happen! But this movie, whether intentionally or not, positions Nina’s struggle as the important one. We’re supposed to George’s queerness as something of a betrayal. Why can’t that cute boy just get it together and date America’s Sweetheart already!

Thankfully, the movie ends with George and Nina still in each others’ lives, but platonically. It’s not the worst ending of a queer-adjacent flick you could come up with in 1998, but it can’t quite make up for the misery of the past 90 minutes. Especially when you consider…

Some of the extremely untoward things that are said in this movie:

-Alan Alda calls being gay a “valid and wonderful choice.”

-Paul Rudd tells his brother (Steve Vaughn) “you can get close to a woman without sleeping with her.” Vaughn replies: “That’s news to me.”

-Jennifer Aniston’s boyfriend says to Paul Rudd: “You homo boys, you mess up women’s personal lives but can’t take any physical responsibility!” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean, because it feels pretty specific to this movie—unless there’s a secret trend of gay men showing up to raise children with straight women they just met?

Alison Janney says: “I enjoy gay people. I just don’t like my pregnant sister being in love with one of them.” Go off…queen??

Jennifer Aniston says: “I have this new theory that any man who doesn’t hit you over the head with his opinions must be gay.” Strong theory but…have you met any Log Cabin Republicans lately?

Now keep in mind that this is only a small selection—I could go on. It’s an artifact, is the point—an artifact that happened to always be on TV in my peak years of watching movies on cable. I’ll never forget The Object of My Affection and the portrait of delusional romance it painted, but I’m also glad I never have to watch it again.

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