Ben Stiller as Reuben Feffer
Jennifer Aniston as Polly Prince
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Sandy Lyle
Debra Messing as Lisa Kramer
Alec Baldwin as Stan Indursky
Hank Azaria – Claude
Bryan Brown as Leland Van Lew
Jsu Garcia – Javier
Michele Lee as Vivian Feffer
Bob Dishy as Irving Feffer
Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller), a risk assessor at a major insurance company, is on his honeymoon, when his wife decides to cheat on him with a scuba instructor. Dejected, he decides to ask out Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), a free-spirited woman who has reentered his life. The problem is that the adventurous Polly likes to live on the edge, while Reuben is always about playing it safe. Can she get Reuben to starting taking chances so that their relationship stands a chance?
Along Came Polly is the first major Hollywood film directed by John Hamburg, who wrote Meet the Parents and Zoolander. As would be expected, Hamburg really knows his comedy and humor. This being the third script he’s written for Ben Stiller, they clearly work well together. Stiller perfectly plays the patsy to Hamburg’s pranks, throwing every possible situation at Stiller that he can. While the resulting movie is not great, there are certainly a lot of good laughs and funny jokes.
A lot of the movie’s funniest situations might feel familiar to anyone who has ever had any sort of active dating life, from getting up the nerve to call someone to being nervous that something might go wrong, which almost guarantees that it will. Much of the humor revolves around Reuben’s neurotic attempts and complete failure to avoid risks, and Stiller is the perfect everyman to play this type of role, handling every situation with his usual aplomb. He’s also great at the physical humor, turning every minor gag into something memorable with his facial reactions.
That being the case, the true laughter magnet for the movie has to be Phillip Seymour Hoffman, as Stiller’s best friend. There are some funny gags about his former fame as a child actor, which he is desperately trying to recapture, and his inability to realize how bad he is as a basketball player is hilarious. It’s a performance that is way over the top, and though it’s below what he’s capable of as an actor, it shows how much he brings to the table in the movies in which he appears. Hoffman and Stiller play off each other well to build up the laugh factor.
“The Simpsons” regular Hank Azaria plays another one of the movie’s funnier characters, as the French scuba instructor that steals Reuben’s wife. It’s a role very different from his norm, and he must have worked out for it, since he spends most of his scenes in various states of undress. Some of the scenes between him and Stiller are the funniest of the movie, and he comes across as surprisingly likeable considering his role. Alec Baldwin has a nice turn as Stiller’s boss, although it’s a fairly one-dimensional character compared to his role in The Cooler.
What Didn’t Work:
If you don’t like Jennifer Aniston, it’s going to be hard to get through this movie, since she plays her normally whiny character, as personified by her ten years as Rachel on the sitcom “Friends”.
On the other hand, Debra Messing, who is a lot more likeable despite having spent most of her career mimicking Aniston, has too small a role as Reuben’s cheating wife.
While the movie starts out decently, it quickly falls short when it gets into the romance between Stiller and Aniston. The plot is your typical guy-loses-girl, guy-meets-new-girl-who-is-very-different type plot, so there are very few surprises. Even worse, Stiller and Aniston don’t have the chemistry needed to make this sort of movie work, and it’s hard to believe that they would come together even if you belong to the “opposites attract” school. With the exception of There’s Something About Mary, Stiller has not proven himself as a romantic lead, and nothing Reuben says or does would make it seem like she could be attracted to him. When the two become locked in a heavy kiss just after one of his neurotic outbursts, you’re left mystified. Why would she want to make out with this guy who seems to be annoying to her? Things get worse when Reuben’s ex wife reenters the picture, forcing Reuben to make a choice. Anyone who can’t figure out how “hard” his choice will be and who he ends up picking hasn’t seen enough of these types of movies.
Of course, Hamburg tries to use the Farrelly Brothers approach to romantic comedy by including a lot of madcap humor, but most of the gags are obvious and predictable if you’ve seen the trailer. Most of the time, the movie resorts to gross-out humor for cheap laughs, even if they’re not necessary in developing the characters or the story. Everything from farting to vomiting is covered pretty thoroughly. Fortunately, Hamburg does include a few more subtle laughs than the typical pratfalls, and this is where the movie plays up to Hamburg’s strengths. Unfortunately, the broader humor tends to win out, and it is what people will remember.
The movie is pretty convoluted and disjointed due to the number of concurrent storylines. Besides the romance between Reuben and Polly, there is a subplot involving a thrill-seeking millionaire, played by Bryan Brown, doing his best impression of Virgin mogul Richard Branson. Reuben follows him around trying to find out if he’s insurable, but it adds very little to the central story, even if it does help him discover a more spontaneous lifestyle. In some ways, Hoffman’s arc to self-discovery is more interesting, especially since he ends up playing a pivotal role in the resolution of both of the other subplots.
The Bottom Line:
With Along Came Polly, Hamburg has tried hard to make a cookie cutter Hollywood romantic comedy, and in that end, he only succeeds in making a very formulaic by-the-book movie. While a lot of the humor works, the romance doesn’t mainly due to the lack of chemistry between the two stars. The standout performances by the supporting cast do somewhat make up for it, but in general, much of the cast seems wasted. If nothing else, it proves that Hamburg should stick to straight comedy and leave the romance to others more suited for it.
Along Came Polly opened nationwide on Friday.