Along Came Polly (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Usually, the problem with romantic comedies is that, although the "romantic" part of the equation works, the "comedy" aspect falls flat. With Along Came Polly, it's the other way around. The film, written and directed by John Hamburg (Safe Men), has plenty of funny moments, but there's no chemistry between stars Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston. It's hard to accept that these two characters are, or even could be, in love. So, while the film is pleasant and sporadically entertaining, it can't be considered an unequivocal success.

The motivation behind Along Came Polly was to develop the same kind of charming, sweet, crudely funny mélange that made There's Something About Mary so wildly popular. To this end, Universal Pictures recruited the male lead of Mary, Ben Stiller, and paired him with the popular and talented Jennifer Aniston. However, although both of these actors are capable of building likable characters and generating laughs from the comedic material, they never connect. Thus, the ultimate payoff of any romantic movie - the unavoidable "happily ever after" moment - turns out to be flat.

As the story goes, Reuben Feffer (Stiller) is a risk assessor for a prominent New York insurance firm headed by Stan Indursky (Alec Baldwin). For Reuben, years of bachelorhood have finally ended when he ties the knot with realtor Lisa Kramer (Debra Messing). But the marriage is over before all the wedding dishes have been washed. One day into the honeymoon, Reuben finds his wife in a compromising position with scuba instructor Claude (Hank Azaria with a hilariously over-the-top French accent). Distraught, he returns home. On the advice of his best friend, Sandy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), he goes to a party, where he hooks up with Polly Prince (Aniston), a girl he hasn't seen since junior high school. Of course, they are attracted to one another, but their polar opposite personalities (he's grounded and anal; she's flighty and commitment-phobic) makes them as compatible as oil and water.

Ben Stiller is one of those actors who can play a total ass or a really likable dweeb. In this case, he's the latter, and, as always happens in movies of this sort, he ends up being the punchline for a number of physical gags. One involves an overweight, overachieving basketball player who uses Stiller's face as a towel. Another concerns the greasiest pizza imaginable. Then there's the one about the IBS-enhanced bowel movement, the last sheet of toilet paper, and the blind ferret. (It's probably not quite as outrageous as that description might lead one to believe.) The humor is occasionally scatological and rarely in good taste, but it is reasonably consistently funny, which is a rarity. I typically don't laugh at fart jokes, but this movie takes things to the next (and usually grossest) level. Ever heard of a "shart?" Once you've seen Along Came Polly, you will have. Plus, there are plenty of naked male buttocks, for those who are into that sort of thing.

Aniston is as adept at comedy as Stiller. Endless episodes of "Friends" have prepared her for this kind of role, and her turn in the recent The Good Girl has proven that she's more than a pretty sit-com star with a nice body. The supporting cast includes a rather bland Debra Messing, a very funny Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin doing a Jewish caricature (it's brilliantly offbeat, if nothing else), and Bryan Brown as an uninsurable daredevil. Hoffman and Baldwin steal their share of scenes, but they leave enough for Stiller and Aniston.

Still, it's disappointing that there aren't a few sparks between the two. Ultimately, Reuben has to decide whether to spend the rest of this life with Polly or Lisa, and we find ourselves not caring which way he turns. We sympathize with the character, but not necessarily his choice. Aniston is unquestionably a better actress than Cameron Diaz (There's Something About Mary's title character), but she fails to exude the adorability factor that made Diaz so irresistible in the Farrelly Brothers' rule-breaking comedy. Every truly successful raunchy romantic comedy has at its heart a couple worth rooting for. This one doesn't. It's hard to dismiss the film because it offers enough laughs to compensate for the lukewarm romance, but one can't help wishing the filmmakers had concerned themselves a little more with chemistry and less with biology.

Along Came Polly (United States, 2004)

Director: John Hamburg
Cast: Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Debra Messing, Alec Baldwin, Hank Azaria, Bryan Brown
Screenplay: John Hamburg
Cinematography: Seamus McGarvey
Music: Theodore Shapiro
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2004-01-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Content, Nudity, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1