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by Jim Wunderle

"The Object of My Affection"

Directed by: Nicolas Hytner

Starring: Jennifer Aniston, Paul Rudd

Rated: R

I still haven't seen Jennifer Aniston in her TV role on whatever sit-com it is she stars in. Maybe that's why I'm still this is her fourth film taken by surprise every time I see her on the big screen. Before her debut, in Edward Burns' "She's the One," I had always just considered her as "that TV actress with the hair."

She was great in "She's the One" and although most of the roles she's played since (including her latest) have found her cast as pretty much the same character, she's always managed to turn in fine performances. There's something about her that reminds me of Carol Lombard and a few other gifted screen comediennes.

She's expressive, natural, has an endearing on-screen persona and a real gift for subtle physical comedy. While audiences aren't likely to make "The Object of My Affection" the hot box office ticket of the season, I think more and more people are going to take note of Aniston's gifts as an actress and sooner or later she'll land the breakthrough role she so rightly deserves.

Director Nicolas Hytner's last film was the decidedly more somber adaptation of Arthur Miller's play "The Crucible." This time out, Hytner is going the romantic comedy route with a few modern twists. You can think of this as a follow-up to "My Best Friend's Wedding," rated R for a reason.

There's a lot of sexual innuendo here, most of it a bit askew from the normal Hollywood fare. Aniston plays Nina Borowski, a vivacious young woman with a rather overbearing boyfriend. She needs a roommate to share her Brooklyn apartment and takes in George Hanson (Paul Rudd), a gay man who has just been jilted by his lover.

Of course George and Nina hit it off beautifully. They're like a couple of schoolgirls at a slumber party and there's no threat of sex ruining their friendship. At first, anyway.

Nina grows increasingly fond of George, and when she discovers she's pregnant (by her boyfriend), she asks George to stay with her and help her raise the child. (This scenario will probably raise the Rev. Falwell's ire more than that "My Two Mommies" book did a few years back.)

All is fine at first, but eventually, and we knew it had to happen, George meets another young man and falls in love. Nina tries to deal with the situation, but her real feelings by now she is deeply in love with George finally come to the fore.

This wreaks havoc on what seems to have been a perfect situation. In Hollywood, things always have a way of working out, but the final act of "The Object of My Affection" is not exactly an open-and-shut formula finale.

Aniston and co-star Paul Rudd are both better than the script they've been given, but there are a few nice moments in the story, which is the first screenplay from Tony Award-winning author Wendy Wasserstein ("The Heidi Chronicles," "The Sisters Rosenweig"). It is hoped everyone concerned here will do a little better on their next go 'round. They all deserve it.

On the home video front this week is a film too good to let slip through the cracks, and considering the limited play it got in its theatrical run, that seems to be a possibility. The movie in question is "Career Girls" from English director Mike Leigh.

Critics have long sung Leigh's praises for such innovative films as "Life is Sweet" and "Naked." And the industry finally gave him a nod in 1996 when he was nominated for his direction of "Secrets and Lies." I rank these three films among my favorites of the 1990s, and "Career Girls" takes its place among them, as well.

Like all of his recent work, "Career Girls" is rich in character development and dialogue. Leigh has an uncanny knack for creating characters so "real" the viewer tends to be drawn in as if watching a documentary.

(Jim Wunderle works at Associated Video Producers and is a Springfield free-lance writer and musician.)

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