Along Came Polly
Ben Stiller carries on with his trademark neurotic mantle as Reuben Feffer an anxiety-ridden heartbroken insurance risk assessor who finds impulsive love with Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston) a flaky fly-by-night slacker with a blind ferret. Reuben recently dumped his new bride (Debra Messing) on their honeymoon after catching her enflagrante with a scuba instructor (played wonderfully by Hank Azaria) and decides to go in the opposite dating direction with spicy foods and dirty salsa dancing. Screenwriter John Hamburg ("Meet The Parents") makes his directorial debut in this Ben Stiller vehicle that never gets off the ground. Hank Azaria ("Shattered Glass") pops as the scandalous French scuba instructor with an overactive libido, and Philip Seymour Hoffman ("Cold Mountain") scene-steals as an ego-driven community theater actor. For a movie with a theme of living life without deferring to fear of the risks involved, the filmmakers don't take chances in breaking the mold of run-of-the-mill romantic comedies.
Incompatibility runs rampant in "Along Came Polly." The movie opens on Reuben’s and Lisa’s uncomfortable marriage ceremony that is made comical by a terrific pratfall that Reuben’s drunk friend Sandy (Hoffman) takes on the dance floor. The awkward wedding speeches from the newlyweds, and comments from Reuben’s cheeky boss Stan (Alec Baldwin), foreshadow Lisa’s upcoming despicable act of infidelity to posit a cloud of not-so-comic doom over the marriage. It’s a difficult place for Stiller’s character to recover from because his blind cuckold is the feeble protagonist that the audience must identify with throughout the story.
Inherent in Reuben’s personality is his weak judgement of character. The film’s running joke about Reuben’s job life as a nervous risk assessor comes in the guise of daredevil millionaire Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown). Reuben, who has risk assessed every miniscule aspect of his waking life, must validate why his company should insure a guy who goes diving with sharks and B.A.S.E. jumps when he isn’t taking his sailboat through heavy storms. Leland is Reuben’s polar opposite. He’s a middle-aged bachelor intent on dancing on the edge of life’s dangers with as much panache as possible. Reuben is the guy who won’t touch the cocktail nuts at a bar because 36 pairs of dirty hands have already been in there.
This brings us to Aniston’s Polly as a girl who temps failure with a rebellious nature that suffers jobs and boyfriends with equal ambivalence. Reuben meets Polly at an art opening with Sandy as his incontinent guide. Hoffman interjects the sequence with the movie’s funniest moment when he runs up to Reuben and insists that they leave immediately because he has just "sharted." I shouldn’t, in good conscience, expound more on the obvious definition of "sharted" except to say that Hoffman makes the most of the comic possibilities of the scene and his treatment of the humor puts an indelible comic stain in the mind of the viewer.
Aniston’s Polly works as an insubordinate catering waitress when she isn’t salsa dancing with her handsome gay friends or decorating her apartment with beads, candles and overpriced loofas. The role is ideal for Aniston’s physical type, but is a meek departure from the character depth she displayed in "The Good Girl." The main reason that Aniston flounders in the part is because she plays the character to literally to be funny. You can sense Aniston trying too hard to compensate for Polly’s shallowness by putting an overwrought blue-collar edge on her. As written, Polly’s character is too young for Aniston to play, and also too young to fill the bill for Reuben’s nesting needs. It’s a role that an actress like Drew Barrymore could have added more humor to but would still have been unable to improve on the overall effect of the movie.
Rated PG-13, 90 mins. (C) (Two Stars)
July 12, 2005 | Permalink