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The Opposite of Sex ; The Object of My Affection ; Two Girls and a Guy

If love is a crapshoot (yeah, so’s everything, but just stick with the relationship cliché for now), what happens to the odds when you throw sexual identity into the pot? As three new-to-tape movies demonstrate, the game gets exponentially complicated when someone who thought he was gay suddenly starts feeling a little less so, or when someone with determination is determined to have the guy she wants, no matter that he doesn’t want her — at least in ”that way.” Things can get awfully modern (even if the subject has been addressed before — at least since 1965’s The Leather Boys) when the competitor for a love object is the same sex as the love object, and it’s down to the wire as to which way they’ll swing. Caught in the dizzy swirl of trying to figure out who is what (homo? het? bi? neutered?) are those lonely souls who just want love, gender be damned.

Which is surely what Nina (Jennifer Aniston) wants in The Object of My Affection. She’s a Brooklyn social worker looking for love in all the wrong places, most notably the person of a gentle schoolteacher (Paul Rudd) who’s splendidly right in every way but one. They even fall in love, after a fashion — only celibacy suits neither of them. And no matter how much wishful thinking she engages in, she can’t make him less fundamentally attracted to members of his own sex.

There is a name, not to be repeated in present company, for the woman who always finds herself mooning over men of this persuasion. But this is a one-time-only thing for Nina, and even though we feel played for a family-values fool for rooting for her, it is mainly the result of one exhilarating moment: a fantasy dance sequence in which you’d swear you saw the ghosts of Astaire and Rogers.

The one upstanding thing about the film is that it doesn’t pander to those conventional tastes by offering a miraculous conversion, but everything else about Object, including the washed-out dialogue by Wendy Wasserstein and the dozens of implausibilities (social work consists of sharing relationship tips with teen clients; the school play has a costume budget exceeding that of Cats), marks it as Hollywood’s standard cheap fake.

Virtually nothing upstanding takes place in Two Girls and a Guy, except for a pretty outre sexual encounter in which one girl and the guy remain standing. Not that writer-director James Toback seems to think there’s anything wrong with his creation of creepily intense Blake Allen (Robert Downey Jr.), a showbiz ”performer” of dubious ability who’s also a pathological liar. He comes home one day to an alarming surprise — both of his comely girlfriends, Lou (Natasha Gregson Wagner) and Carla (Heather Graham), in the same place at the same time. Much yakking ensues, decorated with dramatic gesticulation intended to draw the viewer ever deeper into the pretentious unknown: Who is telling the truth about what they want, about who they are, about what they’ve done? At first both girls seem devoted and faithful, but by the end, who knows who’s toying with whom?

This movie might have contained a dance or two itself, but what could have been a slow, tense pavane of anger flirting with desire turns into a shrug. Primary among the missed opportunities is Lou’s provocative offer for continuing the triangle; the movie’s abrupt dismissal of her idea has less to do with queasiness about bisexuality, I suspect, than with the director’s desire to have his central character remain central.

Similarly overblown, but unsimilarly possessed of a sense of humor that redeems all, is 16-year-old white trash mother-to-be Dedee (marvelous Christina Ricci), star and narrator of the unmitigated hoot The Opposite of Sex (on tape Oct. 27). She has no qualms or scruples, and only one agenda: to wreck lives wherever she goes. She’s beautifully open about this, and her voice-overs speak what many think but few say: ”There’s other people a lot nicer [than me] coming up…we call them losers”; ”Gays love houses.” This makes her a sort of paragon of honesty, even as she lies, cheats, and steals. For Dedee, it’s gender, schmender. Everyone’s up for grabs, even the cupcake boyfriend (Ivan Sergei) of her gay half brother, Bill (Martin Donovan).

Writer-director Don Roos turns every American stereotype (rabid Christian redneck, tabloid TV reporter) into its opposite and back again with precise comedic timing, and his cast delivers uniformly spot-on performances. Lisa Kudrow in particular, playing an uptight spinster with unrequitable desires for Bill, manages to be both ridiculous and endearing, like The Opposite of Sex itself.

With an eloquence that the other two films lack, the title, as it turns out, expresses the simple, old-fashioned truth that lies buried beneath the contemporary anxiety over who sleeps with whom. Sex, the way Dedee pursues it, has an opposite — it’s called love. And a fixation on sexual identity has an opposite too. It’s called humanity. Object: B- Two Girls: C- Opposite: A-

[BOX]

The Opposite of Sex 1998 COLUMBIA TRISTAR $98.99 RATED R

The Object of My Affection 1998 FOX $103.99 RATED R

Two Girls and a Guy 1998 FOX $99.99 RATED R/NC-17

The Object of My Affection
type
  • Movie
genre
mpaa
runtime
  • 111 minutes
director

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