Along Came Polly
review by Elias Savada, 16 January 2003

I had already written the first paragraph of this review minutes before the preview screening had started. Hey, the trailer (since changed) gave the impression this was some insipid frat-boy comedy heavy on toilet and blind pet humor. Plus, it was a January release, generally considered a dumping ground for the worst of the year's films. I dreaded this arrival, not because  it was from writer-director John Hamburg (Safe Men, co-writer of Meet the Parents and Zoolander), but rather, expecting the worse, it would be a sad reprise of last year's Ben Stiller fiasco Duplex, which had easily made my ten-worse list of 2003. At best, I alluded to the New York Mets and how every New Yorker marveled at the resiliency of the 1969 version of that baseball team's rise from the ashes near the bottom of the previous year's National League's standings to win its first world series. Which season would Along Came Polly fall into? Feast, or famine.

Well, suffice to say that Polly doesn't strike out. It's a solid two-base hit. One for Stiller, the other for his co-star, Friends' Jennifer Aniston. I'll also add in half a base for Philip Seymour Hoffman, who does a marvelous spin as an ex-Brat Pack child actor turned morosely self-involved schlub. His Sandy Lyle is, as often is Hoffman's case, a scene-stealer, transfixing upon the audience a perverted scheme to reinvent himself as a once and future star. He's been suffering through decades trying to reclaim the glory that was his following the release of the nonsensical nonentity Crocodile Tears, a running gag title--not to mention that most fans think he is dead (not a great ego booster)--that places it alongside John Hughes' The Breakfast Club, when a look-alike poster shows up within the film. He's vile, disgusting, egotistical, and Reuben's best friend. But when it comes to eating pizza, he's the last person you want to share a greasy pie with.

Hank Azaria, himself no stranger to thespian one-up-man-ship (witness his Agador Spartacus, the Guatemalan houseboy, in Mike Nichols' The Birdcage), never looked better, physically, as the buff, bronzed, and long-haired Claude, a mentally-fractured French scuba instructor. (My wife was convinced that Azaria's body was computer generated.) The experienced diver is prone to discoveries involving the carnal treasures of the opposite sex. His latest undersea expedition uncovers the tropical attire of Debra Messing's Lisa Kramer, a.k.a the bride of Reuben Feffer (Stiller), on the couple's St. Barts honeymoon. Reuben's boss, Stan Indursky, is a flatulently outspoken Jewish caricature (played with vulgar outspokenness by Alec Baldwin) who does little to lift his abandoned-on-his-honeymoon employee's diminishing fortitude. Oh, the humiliation!

The pick-me-up arrives via serendipity, when Reuben spots Polly Prince (Aniston), an old seventh grade classmate and present-day carefree spirit who's pouring wine (red, white, together) for patrons at a party she's waiting. Far-fetched, you might say, that you'd run into someone that distant in your past AND recognize them. Yeah, but it's called a short cut to some people (the scriptwriter), or a shortcoming to others, me included. I'll allow the benefit of doubt this and a few other times, but the dumbest sequence in the film I forecast within seconds: when you KNOW Reuben is going to drive his rental car backwards into the sands of the Caribbean after he's been ditched by his insecure bride.

Using a script that relies too much on coincidence and fails to develop the chemistry of its eccentric characters beyond their, well, eccentric natures, means that Hamburg forces a pair of seemingly opposites to attract. Reuben, a senior risk assessment analyst for a high-octane insurance company, has sad cases of introverted, puppy love butterflies and, more seriously and probably with too much comic relief, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. On the flip side of the equation is the worldly waitress Polly, whose penchant for spicy food and a sight-impaired ferret takes its toll on their budding relationship. Embarrassment, commitment issues (as pertaining to Reuben's failed marriage), and Reuben's inability to tell Polly how her cuisine selection flagrantly takes its toll on his digestive tract. He may be interested in using his statistical computer assessment model on both of the women in his life (or on a wise-cracking, volcano-jumping, heli-skiing, earth-moving Australian bazillionaire businesman, played by Bryan Brown, Reuben's company is trying to insure), he never inserts himself into the program. Maybe his workaholic, neurotic personality would have crashed t      he system.

Putting the inadequacies of the screenplay aside, Stiller does capture the phobic essence of his character, and Aniston, having shown us that she can successfully adapt to big-screen life outside (and, soon-to-be, after) Friends, having successfully crossed over to believable roles in the Jim Carrey comedy Bruce Almighty and Miguel Arteta's blue collar indie The Good Girl. The inevitably comic situation set-ups may not cover a lot of emotional territory, but there is an earnest decision by both stars, particularly Stiller, to carry their roles beyond the goofball shenanigans thrust upon them.

For a January release, Along Came Polly is an engaging trifle, flatulently overwritten yet filled with enough eccentric characters and comic timing to make it worth the risk.

Written and
Directed by:

John Hamburg

Starring:
Ben Stiller
Jennifer Aniston
Debra Messing
Hank Azaria
Bryan Brown
Alec Baldwin

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.

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