out of Five
Running time: 90
Average comedy that delivers a series of funny set-pieces but doesn’t quite come together, despite the best efforts of an excellent cast.
Along Came Polly is the second feature from writer-director John Hamburg, who also had a hand in two previous Stiller hits: Zoolander and Meet the Parents. However, though the cast are excellent and there are several funny scenes, the film doesn’t quite work, frequently relying too much on gross-out humour and not enough on a decent script.
Neurotic Insurance Assessor
Stiller plays neurotic insurance assessor Reuben Feffer, a man who has
dedicated his life to analysing risk and planning his every move, including, he thinks, his marriage to the perfect woman, Lisa (Debra Messing, from Will and Grace).
However, when Lisa dumps him on their honeymoon and shacks up with ‘Scuba King’ Hank Azaria (in Comedy Accent mode), Reuben decides he needs a new approach and he embarks on a relationship with old high school friend Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), despite the fact that they are seemingly incompatible.
To be fair, the film does deliver its share of laugh-out-loud comic
set-pieces, though if you’ve seen the trailer, there’s a good chance you’ve seen the best ones (a set-up involving a diarrhoea attack, an expensive Scandinavian loofah and a blind pet ferret; a basketball encounter with the chest of a sweaty fat man).
Stiller continues to mine the seam of Comedy Humiliation (cf Basil Fawlty) that has served him so well in the past, though Along Came Polly is closer to the tone of There’s Something About Mary than either Meet the Parents or Zoolander, though without the Farrelly’s careful balancing between gross-out gags and genuine romance.
Aniston is her usual, adorable self and looks fantastic throughout the whole film. However, exactly what she sees in Reuben is never really made clear (frankly, it’s hard to see him even getting a second date).
There are also a number of sequences that simply don’t work: for example, when Reuben takes secret salsa lessons to impress Polly - what could have been a really lovely, romantic scene is ruined by making Stiller dance like an idiot (David Brent-style). And yet Polly is impressed, as are the crowd, and as a result it isn’t at all sure if you're meant to cringe or laugh at that scene.
Excellent Supporting Cast
On the plus side, the supporting cast are excellent, particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman, who steals every scene as Sandy, Reuben’s best friend, a struggling actor who was once a teen star in a Breakfast Club-type movie (“You rocked in that bagpipes scene!”). Admittedly, he’s slightly over the top, to the point where you sometimes wonder if they wanted Jack Black instead.
However, there’s also good work from Hank Azaria, Bryan Brown (as a risk-taking client Reuben is assigned) and, surprisingly, from Alec Baldwin, who delivers an amusing comic performance as Reuben’s Jewish boss and manages to wangle himself a catchphrase (“Mazel, mazel - good things”) into the bargain.
Basically, the film relies too heavily on its individual set-pieces and on gross-out humour in general, frequently at the expense of a decent script or character plausibility. Plus, there are only a limited number of times that you can laugh at a blind ferret bumping into something.
In short, Along Came Polly is worth seeing, thanks to some good gags and a great cast, but doesn’t quite work overall, which is a shame, because it could have been a sort of When Harry Met Sally with the character traits reversed…