Love and Death on Long Island
film by Richard Kwietniowski
The Object of My Affection
film by Nicholas Hytner
Both of these movies deal surprisingly well in their different
ways with the peculiarities of love's importance (and impertinence)
in our livesand the poverty of the ways in which we are accustomed
to thinking about it.
There are multiple characters in The Object of My Affection who are in love with the wrong person, a person who loves someone
else or is of an incompatible sexual orientation. But this is
no pat comic take on these kinds of non-choices, it is instead
a thoughtful and fairly complicated look at how we make love work
for and despite ourselves, despite the limitations the world imposes
Take it as a given that I am a big sap and went to see The Object of My Affection with the expectation that it was a typical "light-hearted romantic
comedy"the kind that is only entertainment, makes you cringe
as much as it makes you smile, insults your intelligence on some
level, is impossible. And I was ready to be satisfied with it
on those "merits" alone. So I was tremendously surprised and gratified
by what the story actually spun out to be. A straight woman falls
in love with her best friend, a gay man. An older gay man loves
a young gay actor, and settles for deep friendship, not without
sadness. A straight women and gay manbest friendsdecide to raise
(her) child together, and face the criticism placed upon them
by the way the world is, and by their own vision of what family
is. None of this comes to easy formulaic solution or catharsis;
characters don't jump from sadness to happiness without time and
thought, not everyone, not even best friends, are open-minded
or intelligent about other people's sexual choices... but five
years later (filmic time) there is an incredible extended family,
dealing with its quirks and letdowns, loving what it is blessed
with, making family out of what has never been considered family...
and finding "true love" on different terms than one would expect.
And yes this is the movie starring Jennifer Aniston of "Friends"
fame and Paul Rudd of "Clueless" fame. I find it to be deeply
worth seeing, but realize some of you won't be able to bring yourselves
to see it because of who's in it, how it's advertised, etc. That's
okay. You might even hate it despite the above-described complexities.
So you could go see Love and Death on Long Island instead. Yes, it stars Jason Priestley of "90210" fame, but his
role is an ironic one, almost mocking the making of his own fame.
You can deal with that, surelyit is your accepted approach, no?
And, what's more, he is not the central character. John Hurt,
the aging stodgy British academic, who caught in the rain in London
one day runs into a movie theater (he is so stodgy that he hates
cinema, loves only eighteenth century verse or something like
that), stumbles upon a college panty movie, something like Porky's
or other teensploitation-type films. Jason Priestley is the "star"
of this film-within-a-film. John Hurt develops an obsession with
him. Secretly buys teenybopper magazines. Makes a scrap book.
Travels to the United States. Insinuates himself into his "idol"'s
life... somehow heightens the integrity of a non-reflective panty
movie actor, though under dishonest pretence of casual, unplanned
meeting. The film runs deeper than it seems, is engrossing in
its development, sensitive in its portrayals (except in its portrayals
of female characters, unfortunately), and to tell you very much
more would be to ruin the subtle and moving progress of the film.
Its message, though its delivery is more brooding and subtle,
is similar to that of The Object of My Affectionthat we have got to find new ways to figure our thoughts about
love if we are to open up ways to live happily in this world.
I suppose that both of these films prepare us for the brilliance
of Bill Conlon's Gods and Monsters.