Along Came Polly Review
It's appropriate that Along Came Polly opens with a wedding since just about every aspect of this film is something borrowed. I would have expected better and fresher material from writer / director John Hamburg, who previously wrote Meet The Parents and Zoolander. Perhaps he panicked at the prospect of making his directing debut and made the script as safe and familiar as he could. This is a movie about the importance of taking risks, yet it risks nothing at all, other than accusations of plagiarism.
The bridegroom in that opening wedding scene is Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller), a neurotic square who works as a risk assessor for a life insurance company. His job is to decide in difficult cases whether or not policies should be sold, for example to an Aussie tycoon (Bryan Brown) who relaxes by strapping on a parachute and jumping off his own building. Unfortunately, Reuben's marriage is one risk he's assessed badly - on the first day of the honeymoon, he catches his bimbo bride (Debra Messing from Will & Grace) fooling around with her scuba instructor. Broken-hearted, he returns to single life and the unwanted, prying sympathy of everyone he knows. Life picks up when he bumps into Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), an old schoolfriend who's blossomed into a beautiful woman. She's also very different from Reuben, living a carefree, bohemian existence in a messy apartment with a blind pet ferret. Deciding that something different is exactly what he needs, Reuben tries to put his neuroses to one side and live a little.
You don't have to have seen many movies to know where this is going. The conservative-guy-meets-free-spirited girl-and-learns-to-enjoy-life formula is as old as the hills. Your parents may have gone to see George Segal and Barbra Streisand play these roles thirty-five years ago in The Owl And The Pussycat. There isn't a single subplot whose outcome you can't guess. Will Reuben learn to salsa like Ricky Martin? Will he insure the lovable Aussie eccentric? Will his bitchy ex-wife re-appear late in the film and will Reuben think seriously about taking her back? Some suspense that creates! The bitch who cheated on him on their honeymoon or Jennifer Aniston? Tough choice.
Okay so the plot's crap. It's a comedy, you're not going for the plot. What's much more damaging is that the gags are second-rate and mostly second-hand too. The embarassing case of diarrhoea in the girlfriend's bathroom is straight out of Dumb And Dumber. The accident-prone pet is from There's Something About Mary. To be fair, I think the sweat-licking incident is original. It's not just the jokes, even minor plot points inspire deja vu. When Polly finds a list of good and bad things about her on Reuben's laptop, fans of Jennifer Aniston's sitcom Friends will remember her character Rachel found a similar list Ross had written about her, also on a laptop. The most shameless steal of all is from Kevin Smith - a character who stays quiet for most of the film finally opens his mouth to impart crucial words of wisom. Someone's due an ass-kicking from Jay and Silent Bob.
The cast do what they can. Ben Stiller reprises the disaster-prone nerd he played in There's Something About Mary and Meet The Parents to lesser effect but still gets a certain amount of humour out of the character. Jennifer Aniston goes one better and creates a likeable, three-dimensional human being. It's time Aniston started getting cast in films worthy of her. While Alec Baldwin lets the side down by playing a Jewish businessman with a ludicrous Jackie Mason accent, the rest of the supporting cast is strong. Hank Azaria has a funny cameo as the lecherous French scuba instructor and Philip Seymour Hoffman has some good moments as Reuben's best friend, an egomaniacal former star of eighties teen movies. Even this character suffers from over-familiarity though. Only last week I saw a comedy called Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star, which not only got there first but is a good deal funnier than Along Came Polly.