Alibi V.13 No.4 • Jan 22-28, 2004 

Film Review

Along Came Polly

Familiar New RomCom is a Case of “Ben There, Done That”

“What do you mean you didn’t sleep with Cameron Diaz when you had the chance—I did!”
“What do you mean you didn’t sleep with Cameron Diaz when you had the chance—I did!”

Along Came Polly

Directed by John Hamburg

Cast: Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Seeing movies in January is a little like going to a hotel in the Third World: It's not necessarily going to be a horrible experience, but you've got to lower your standards a little bit. For at least the first couple months of the year, the Oscar contenders have all been released, the summer blockbusters are months away and the audiences have dropped off precipitously following the holiday crush. Bottom line: Hollywood isn't gonna waste its top shelf product before President's Day. But that doesn't mean everything hitting theaters right now is complete and total garbage. Take, for example, Along Came Polly, the new romantic comedy starring Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. It's pretty funny and kinda romantic—but only in a January sort of way.

In the film (directed by the writer of Zoolander and Meet the Parents), Stiller plays his usual put-upon, “why me?' schlub of a character. Here, he's Reuben Feffer, a risk-averse insurance adjuster who sees the inherent danger in just about any undertaking. Hence, he's anal, overly cautious and itching for some kind of comedic character growth. Reuben gets his cinematic godsmack when his new bride (“Will & Grace's” Debra Messing) sleeps with another man on the first day of their honeymoon. (Ouch!) Brokenhearted, Reuben returns home to New York and starts accepting dating advice from his childhood pal, a disgustingly clueless former child actor played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Shortly thereafter, he bumps into a former mid-school flame named Polly (Jennifer Aniston). She's wild and crazy and afraid of commitment. Hmm. Will opposites attract? Will Reuben learn to throw caution to the wind? Will his wife return in the third act to toss a romantic monkey wrench into the proceedings for ... oh, say, 10 minutes?

Along Came Polly adds nothing remotely new to the romantic comedy formula. In fact, it's little more than a lightweight retread of There's Something About Mary. Most of the mildly crude jokes in this go-around seem to revolve (or is that “swirl”) around toilets, urinals or public restrooms, ensuring loads of potty humor for the high-minded members of the audience. At least the script has the good taste to steer clear of “hair gel” jokes.

Despite the over-familiarity of the story and the over-reliance on poop jokes, Along Came Polly manages to land a measurable percentage of its punch lines. For every joke that falls flat (such as the running gag about a blind ferret that, well, bumps into things) there are at least two that register as uncomfortably funny. The cast members give it their all, packing as much charisma as possible into their unrealistic roles. Hank Azaria (frighteningly buff all of a sudden) goes way over the top, for example, as the philandering Frenchy who seduces Reuben's wife. It's silly as all get-out, but it's just what the role needs to actually elicit laughs.

Along Came Polly isn't going to do much for the careers of Stiller, Aniston and Hoffman. (All of whom deserve better.) But it will fill that rather non-important gap between the release of My Baby's Daddy and the arrival of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! I guarantee you'll have forgotten this film by Valentine's Day, but you might milk a mildly entertaining night at the movies out of it before then.