Along Came Polly

And she brought along a top notch supporting cast as well...

Released in 2004, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 06 Mar 2004 by Scott Morris
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Doing a film with Ben Stiller seems to guarantee at least one other payslip. John Hamburg the writer and director of Along Came Polly also had a hand in Zoolander and Meet The Parents, and while his latest doesn't match up to the rest of the pedigree it's still a perfectly enjoyable slice of entertainment bolstered by a strong supporting cast.

As risk analyst for an insurance firm, Reuben Feffer (Stiller) knows exactly how likely he is to be hit by a bus tomorrow. Rather than use this knowledge as a basis to seize the day, he tries to avoid risk as much as possible. Very sensible. Dull, but sensible. As we join him he's getting happily married to Lisa Kramer (Debra Messing of Will & Grace fame), although the 'happily' part of the equation only lasts until the honeymoon when Ruben finds her playing a game of sink the submarine with Scuba instructor Claude (the excellent Hank Azaria).

Understandably shocked by this, Reuben heads back home to pitying stares but his best friend Sandy Lyle (the very excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman) won't let him wallow in self-pity. Hanging grimly onto fame garnered as a child actor, the adult Lyle is having trouble recapturing the success of his previous years but doesn't let that get in the way of his ego or prima donna behaviour. Reuben is dragged to an art collection launch party where he runs into an old schoolmate, Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston). Sparks fly and after a shaky start the pair start dating seriously.

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Polly is flighty, has a near pathological distrust of commitment and her impulsive, globetrotting nature is a near polar opposite of Ruben's measured, analytical, faintly boring lifestyle. This causes all the usual frictions we've been trained to expect as Ruben tries to convince Polly he's the man for her by engaging in all the activities he either doesn't do or can't stomach, in the case of Polly's love of spicy foods. This leads to the toilet gags and rude body noises, which provides the trailer moments to appeal to the American Pie loving crowd but really isn't representative of the film, and is in fact some of it's weakest moments.

While the bulk of the screentime is filled not unpleasantly by the burgeoning relationship between the two and the predictable crisis of confidence caused by Lisa crawling back a few weeks later, it's rarely their interplay that provides the films memorable scenes and bulk of the belly laughs. Aside from Hoffman's superb and hilarious delivery, and a fine line in inept basketball that suggests too much time playing NBA Jam and not enough time actually playing basketball, a terrific turn from Bryan 'Dirty Deeds' Brown proves to be a huge asset.

Playing Leland Van Lew, an extreme sports loving CEO requiring life insurance to complete a business deal, Ruben is sent to analyse his risks. Given that a typical meeting is prefixed with a spot of base jumping ("I always bring my parachute in case I find a good launch spot") followed by a light afternoons' shark diving, Van Lew wouldn't seem to be the safest bet for a long life. Yet, still he survives even after many volcano luge sessions. Played with an admirably straight face by Brown, Van Lew is more of a force of nature than a person and is so much larger than life that he overshadows his more grounded co-stars in the few scenes he's present. Rather wisely his character isn't overused, which could easily have become grating.

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Between Brown, Hoffman and a similarly effective bit part for Alec Baldwin as Ruben's boss, Stan Indursky a strange situation is created by Hamburg where the most vital and interesting characters aren't on screen for the majority of the time. It's not that Aniston or Stiller do anything wrong, far from it. Aniston continues a string of likeable and inoffensive appearances and Stiller is his usual amiable self, and there's the hint of the genius the man has for playing quirky, goofy characters although in a role where the quirkiness is provided by the absolute lack of quirks he's hobbled a little.

The simple fact remains that Hamburg's script is uninspired. That's not the same as saying it isn't funny, but there aren't too many opportunities for the leads to trade witty banter or do much of interest. The romance is straight out of any number of similar movies, and the crisis caused by Reuben's listing of attributes for both Lisa and Polly has been so obviously lifted from Friends I wondered for a moment if it was a straight-up theft rather than homage. I don't want to harp on about this for any length as it's not as if the film isn't enjoyable in it's current form, but it does strike me as odd that oft times we're left waiting for the next appearance of the supporting cast to provide the laughs.

All in all it follows the same comedy bloodlines as Anger Management and the similarly Aniston starring Bruce Almighty, a big, glossy, polished Hollywood comedy that doesn't have many low points but never quite hits the high notes either. For your fiver you'll receive a middle of the road but eminently enjoyable comedy experience, but after the credits roll you'll spend more time remembering the characters around the lead characters than the plot or indeed the main characters themselves. In a great many other films this would be disastrous, but when the support is of this quality it's hard to take much umbrage.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

John Hamburg
Cast list:
Ben Stiller (Reuben Feffer)
Jennifer Aniston (Polly Prince)
Philip Seymour Hoffman (Sandy Lyle)
Debra Messing (Lisa Kramer)
Alec Baldwin (Stan Indursky)
Hank Azaria (Claude)
Bryan Brown (Leland Van Lew)