Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Surprisingly Zestless Romantic Comedy, Along Came Polly Simmers.

The Good: Some very funny moments, Interesting characters
The Bad: Acting is derivative, Characters end up as types, Very predictable
The Basics: While not terrible, Along Came Polly is an ultimately underwhelming romantic comedy that can safely be skipped.

Last night my wife got to pick the movie we watched. She was still a little sore at me for the way Memento did not actually end and she decided to use her choice of movie night to share with me one of the few romantic comedies she enjoys. That took the form of Along Came Polly. My wife likes both Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, so Along Came Polly was a pretty natural movie to appear in her permanent collection. Before we watched it, she defined the movie for me as her favorite film she ever picked up in Wal-Mart’s $5.00 bin. And after watching it with her, I can pretty much see why.

Along Came Polly is shockingly average and for one who is not a fan of romantic comedies, as my wife is (not, I am), I was surprised how painfully formulaic the movie was. Without even overanalyzing how predictable the initial events of the film were – i.e. the fact that Debra Messing who starts the film paired with Ben Stiller is not billed very high, making it obvious to anyone who has seen pretty much any movie that her character will make a quick exit - Along Came Polly is structured like a writing class project for the archetypal romantic comedy. All that shakes it up from being average is a few uncommonly humorous moments. Unfortunately, those moments are pretty equally balanced by the acting, which is in no way extraordinary, merely the performers playing within the bounds they have clearly established in other roles before this one.

Reuben Feffer is thrilled to marry his best friend, Lisa. On their honeymoon to St. Barts, however, Lisa has an affair with the scuba instructor, which Reuben walks in on. Returning to New York alone and looking toward a pretty bleak future moving into the house he bought for both of them, Reuben agrees to go out on a few dates, per his best friend’s recommendation. While at an art opening, they run into Polly Prince, a woman they knew in their childhood. Reuben decides to see who Polly has become since middle school and he asks her out.

Polly could not be more different than the insurance analyst. Reuben assesses risk for a living and he has trouble getting Polly to commit to eating a meal out more than a day in advance. When they go out for spicy food, Reuben ends up drenched in sweat and in an awkward bathroom situation. But, oddly, Polly remains strangely undeterred and they go dancing and have another dinner, which Reuben’s parents interrupt. As Reuben tries to assess the risk for a thrillseeking client, he and Polly get closer and the relationship seems to be heading in a direction that gives Reuben the potential to move on . . . until Lisa resurfaces!

Along Came Polly seems to be much more appreciated by the general populace based on the strength of the cast and it is hard to argue that Along Came Polly is not well-staffed. Led by Ben Stiller as Reuben, Along Came Polly balances Stiller with Jennifer Aniston (Polly) and features Debra Messing (Lisa), Alec Baldwin (Reuben’s boss, Stan), Philip Seymour Hoffman (Reuben’s best friend, Sandy), Hank Azaria (looking pretty cut, especially for a voice actor!), and several others in even more minor roles. Along Came Polly has a good cast and everyone who appears in the movie appears well-cast for the role that they are in.

In fact, that is one of the issues with Along Came Polly. The casting is entirely unimaginative for the roles. Ben Stiller, especially, suffers as Reuben because it is little more than a retread of the character he played in The Royal Tenenbaums. We get it, Stiller can do a balance of neurotic and deeply damaged. The problem with Stiller as Reuben in Along Came Polly is that he offers us nothing new (except a shot of his butt). Stiller did this role half a decade prior . . . what’s new?

As for the rest of the cast, it is fine, but similarly unremarkable. As the title role in Along Came Polly, Jennifer Aniston would seem to be a highlight, but her performance is surprisingly unmemorable. Aniston is upstaged in every scene she shares with her character’s blind ferret. Aniston is good at playing a free spirit, but for someone who is supposed to be living life in an exciting way, Polly is actually remarkably mundane. Sure, she salsa dances and eats spicy food, but those are really the only two risky behaviors we see her engage in, so she is not much of a contrast to Reuben. Aniston, for her part, does what she can with the role, but it’s not a spectacular role.

The supporting performances in Along Came Polly are equally average, with none of the other actors wowing viewers (though Bob Dishy’s part as Reuben’s father amused me). Moreover, Along Came Polly is almost painfully formulaic, which does not give viewers any real surprises that fit the film. As much as I wanted to like Along Came Polly, the structure of it was very basic, very direct and pretty much the literal rendering of a romantic comedy by the numbers, from the challenges to the relationship that arise to the sidekick best friend’s character arc.

What saves Along Came Polly from being considered completely mundane is the humor in the film. There are several funny lines in Along Came Polly, like the way Reuben seems fixated on the fact that Lisa and the scuba instructor kept their fins on while having sex. When Reuben’s father speaks, it is amusing and even Stiller’s dancing (which bears an uncomfortable resemblance to his physical comedy in Zoolander) is worthy of a chuckle. But not all of the humor works for Along Came Polly. When Reuben is playing basketball and his face essentially acts as a squeegee for a bare-chested man’s sweat, the gag – in addition to being absolutely gross – feels distractingly generic. It is a gag that could have been done in virtually any movie for the same effect; it does not actually reflect much on Reuben’s character to not want to swallow the man’s sweat.

In the end, Along Came Polly is a simple, standard romantic comedy that lacks the “wow” factor to be truly enduring and, as a result, ends up in the lower ranges of what I consider an “average” film.

For other works with Masi Oka, be sure to check out my reviews of:
Friends With Benefits
Fired Up!
Get Smart


Check out how this movie stacks up against others I have reviewed by visiting my Movie Review Index Page where the reviews are organized from best to worst film!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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