Along Came Polly Movie Review

Maybe Ben Stiller should take a break. Not a big one. Just a little breather. Along Came Polly is the first of his four 2004 releases, and it feels like a project coasted through between commitments, some freelance rom-com work to fill the few weeks where Owen Wilson or Janeane Garofalo are busy. Stiller could play Reuben Feffer, an over-cautious risk-management specialist, in his sleep, and Jennifer Aniston's work as the titular Polly -- down-to-earth yet worldly, always late and allegedly loveable -- feels almost remedial after her participation in The Good Girl. And oh, the plot turns they must suffer through! Reuben's marriage falls apart; he asks Polly out on the rebound; their personalities clash; there's even a variation on that old bit where the girl reads something mildly insensitive that the boy never meant for her to see; did Aniston, I wonder, find motivation for this scene from its appearance on Friends years ago?

The thing is, on paper this movie doesn't seem like a pointless timekiller -- or at least like such a forgettable one. The writer-director is John Hamburg, who previously worked with Stiller as a writer on Zoolander and Meet the Parents, two projects that make particularly good use of the actor's talent for silliness and embarrassment, respectively. And there's a fairly crack supporting cast: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Alec Baldwin, Hank Azaria, and Debra Messing. The lack of inspiration and the accompanying clichés about the value of "taking risks" and opposites attracting, then, are like a supernatural force, weighing the movie down. Like gravity, but more persistent.

Oh, there's funny stuff in this movie -- there was some funny stuff in Duplex, too; it's hard to make an absolutely terrible movie starring Ben Stiller, because Ben Stiller is a funny guy. He has good timing, excellent delivery, a durable persona, and a willingness to look foolish if necessary (or even if somewhat unnecessary). There's a funny sequence where Reuben attempts to master salsa-dancing, and many scenes featuring Stiller's ever-furrowed brow, maybe the funniest brow in the movie business, continually registering discomfort.

But Aniston's Polly is a hopeless character; her persona isn't quite as durable as Stiller's. Aniston is playing the sitcom version of a boho free spirit -- that is to say, she's basically playing Rachel of Friends with a less posh apartment. Polly has relatively common tastes that Reuben and the movie mistake for quirks; oh, how she loves funky ethnic food and cherishes her pet ferret! The screenplay has the tenacity to pretend that this warmed-over hippie is just about the kookiest gal in New York City (where risk-averse Reuben improbably lives).

Is this really John Hamburg's pet project as a writer-director, the movie he just had to make? I didn't love Meet the Parents, but it had a certain purity, a singularity of purpose that Along Came Polly aimlessly lacks. It's the type of comedy that seems learned from watching other bad movies. Even the invaluable Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Reuben's uncouth best friend, is essentially doing his best Jack Black imitation, and Hank Azaria reprises a bit from America's Sweethearts, of all things. Both are sort of funny in the moment, but the lack of comic originality leaves a bad taste in your mouth; there's a real sense of calculation behind even the funnier parts of Along Came Polly, an unsettling feeling that the Hoffman and Azaria characters, along with Alec Baldwin's vulgar boss, were designed as audience favorites, not written as human beings.

There are worse movies than Along Came Polly; some bad romantic comedies don't have Stiller, Hoffman, or Azaria at all. But when the Ben Stiller filmography includes movies as richly funny as Zero Effect, Mystery Men, and The Royal Tenenbaums, this one just feels like a bad date.

Easy come, easy go.


Along Came Polly Rating

" Grim "

Rating: PG-13, 2004


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