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Along Came Polly (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

Along Came Polly


Starring Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing, Alec Baldwin, Hank Azaria, Bryan Brown, Jsu Garcia, Michele Lee, Bob Dishy, Missy Pyle, Judah Friedlander, Kevin Hart, Masi Oka, Kym Whitley and Cheryl Hines.

Screenplay by John Hamburg.

Directed by John Hamburg.

Distributed by Universal Pictures.  90 minutes.  Rated PG-13.

Ben Stiller is a very funny guy.  When he is on his game, like in There’s Something About Mary, Flirting With Disaster and Keeping the Faith, he can be as funny as anyone in the movies.  He can also be a surprisingly good dramatic actor… see Your Friends & Neighbors and Permanent Midnight if you don’t believe me.  Still, it’s kind of conspicuous that the best film he’s done is still his first major role… a supporting role at that… in Reality Bites.  When you get right down to it, he’s made a whole lot of crappy movies.  Zoolander, Duplex, Mystery Men and the way overrated Meet the Parents immediately come to mind.

Therefore, I was worried by the fact that Along Came Polly was written and directed by John Hamburg, the guy who also penned two of Stiller’s worst, Zoolander and Meet the Parents.  I am happy to report that I laughed at Along Came Polly a lot more than I expected to.

Stiller plays Reuben Feffer.  Reuben is the typical Stiller role, a slightly nerdy, uptight loser who is transformed by love.  The role is not a stretch for him, but he does have the character down pat.  He is a risk-assessment manager for an insurance company, and the aversion to risk goes beyond his business life.  He is obsessively germ-phobic, he will only eat certain foods and he will never do anything that even slightly could put him into danger.  While Reuben is on his honeymoon on St. Barts, his wife (Debra Messing of Will & Grace) has an affair with the local scuba instructor (Hank Azaria with long blonde hair and an outrageous French accent).

Trying to get on with his life, he agrees to go to an art exhibit downtown.  There he runs into Polly Prince, a girl he had gone to junior high school with.  Now she has grown up to look like Jennifer Aniston, so Reuben decided to step outside of his safety zone and ask her for a date.  You can tell Polly is a free spirit because she lives in a funky little apartment, likes spicy foods and salsa dancing, buys her clothes at thrift shops and has an old pet ferret who is losing his sight.  (By the way, I know this film is not the first to do it, but when did it become okay for comedies to go for cheap laughs by hurting innocent animals?) 

Polly is also sort of flighty, constantly ready to move across the world at a moment’s notice and deathly afraid of commitment.  Like Stiller, Aniston is playing a character she could play in her sleep, Polly is like Rachel Green’s bohemian sister.  She’s not quite stretching her acting muscles like she did in The Good Girl or even better romantic comedies like Picture Perfect and Office Space.  However, she does just fine with the little she is given to do.  She is likable and quirky and sexy, which is all she’s asked to be.

Perhaps the reason that the film does work as well as it does is because of strong supporting roles.  In particular, Philip Seymour Hoffman is a hoot as Reuben’s best friend, an aging child actor who still clings to his short long-ago moment of fame.  Alec Baldwin is also hysterical as Reuben’s crass boss.  Debra Messing is just fine in the nothing role of Reuben’s short-lived wife, and Hank Azaria is pretty funny as the beach bum scuba instructor.

As for the scenes that looked so stupid in the coming attractions; Ben having his face smashed into the chest of a sweaty, hairy fat man and Ben stopping up Polly’s toilet… they are as dumb as they looked.  The nice surprise is that they are the exceptions, not the rule.  Yes, there is entirely too much potty humor (a line about “sharts” is particularly distasteful.)  However, there are also a lot of good-hearted moments.  You like these characters and you want to see how it will all turn out.

Not that there is any doubt, really.  Along Came Polly relies slavishly on the constants of romantic comedies, so that nothing that happens is ever really a surprise.  All the clichéd plot points are touched upon.  They get to know each other.  After a disastrous first date they become inseparable by the film’s halfway point.  Then the ex-wife comes back and asks for forgiveness. 

Even though no one in the world believes he will take her back, Reuben tortures himself about it.  A series of misunderstandings cause Reuben and Polly, who are obviously meant for each other, to break up.  Will they get back together before the end credits roll?  You know the answer as well as I do.  However, I would be thrilled if I never have to see another romantic comedy where a guy has to dash across New York City at rush hour to stop the woman he loves from moving away.

Along Came Polly isn’t a great movie.  It isn’t even a particularly memorable movie.  But it is an enjoyable movie.  Sometimes that’s good enough.  (1/04)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2004  All rights reserved. Posted: March 7, 2004.

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