It's becoming a sub-genre unto itself -- the non-threatening homosexual sidekick movie.
Rupert Everett aced the role in My Best Friends Wedding, but Greg Kinnear beat him out for an Oscar nomination by putting on limp-wristed airs in As Good as it Gets. Kevin Kline sat on the sexuality fence post in In and Out until Tom Selleck planted a big smooch on him.
These pictures tippy-toed around their gay characters sexuality, being careful not to stun middle America. All three succeeded wildly at the box office and seemed to open the door for more mainstream gay men in movies -- as long as they appear sex drive-stunted.
As a direct result comes The Object of My Affection, starring Jennifer Aniston as a social worker with man problems and Paul Rudd as -- you guessed it -- her asexual gay best friend.
Adapted from a 10-year-old novel by Stephen McCauley, Object centers around the sometimes awkward friendship between Nina (Aniston) and George (Rudd), roommates and the kind of best buds who curl up on the couch for a night of ice cream and Audrey Hepburn movies.
Nina has a beau who she's not satisfied with, and she daydreams about turning George straight.
George is, of course, extremely single, having been recently dumped by a wealthy professor, and he often muses over men with Nina, further entrenching himself in sexual neutrality with lines like "I don't miss men when I'm with you. I guess sex is just no big deal."
Friends and relatives of the happy un-couple are constantly trying to fix them up, although they prefer each other's company.
But after a few comfy, cuddly scenes showing how tight they are, Nina gets pregnant by her smarmy boyfriend. Meanwhile, George meets a drama student and starts a frolicky flirtation that infringes on his friendship with Nina.
Director Nicholas Hytner (The Madness of King George) applies coats of comedy and pathos, but neither very heavily, leaving the movie lacking somewhat in emotional depth.
After Nina announces she'd like to raise the kid with George, still harboring fantasies of somehow blooming a romance, Rudd and Aniston dryly go through feelings of confusion, conflict, joy and disappointment.
But the film is so concerned with walking the line of political correctness (George is a first grade teacher, demonstrating how gays are no threat to children) that it's not until the last reel that the actors relax enough to play real emotions.
The Object of My Affection is often funny when Nina and George's friends are trying to get them dates. George's insatiable brother, a doctor who changes fiancées like he changes his socks, keeps introducing him to studly medical professionals, saying, "He's an ear, nose and throat man." Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Sometimes the film is even moving, especially a mutual commiseration scene between Aniston and Nigel Hawthorne, playing the jilted lover of George's new beau.
But emotional and comedic inconsistency plague the movie's flow. Story progress is often predicated on weak gimmicks (Nina's family finds out she's pregnant when George tells her not to exert herself by carrying a six pound fan) and none of the actors seem sure which scenes are serious and which to play for laughs.
When Hawthorne, who starred in Hytner's The Madness of King George, arrives in the film, he unintentionally upstages everyone by being the only actor on the screen who is able to balance the laughs with the woe. He's also a catalyst for the film to wrap up in a satisfying but perfunctory epilogue of politically correct coupling.
Had Hytner not been preoccupied with removing all potentially offensive content from his picture (probably at the behest of paranoid studio heads), he might have produced a movie with a bit more identity. As it is, however, The Object of My Affection is like In and Out without the kiss.