Love and Death on Long Island
film by Richard Kwietniowski
and
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 lives—and 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 on us.

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 man—best friends—decide 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, surely—it 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 Affection—that 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.

Jill Stauffer