January 19, 2004

Along Came Polly

John Hamburg has written some movies that I enjoyed quite a bit: ZOOLANDER; MEET THE PARENTS; and vastly underrated SAFE MEN (which he also directed). Hamburg's return to directing comes in the form of the new Ben Stiller-Jennifer Aniston romantic comedy ALONG CAME POLLY, which is also funny at times (thanks largely to an impressive supporting cast) but suffers from being like so many other mainstream, lightweight girl-meets-boy flicks.

Still plays Reuben Feffer, a successful risk analysis expert for an insurance company. He runs his life as he does his work, finding all of the potentials for hazard and avoiding them at all costs. The safest route is the one most traveled. The film opens with Reuben's marriage to Lisa (Debra Messing). The seems happy and content, until the first day of their honeymoon when Lisa cheats on him with a SCUBA instructor named Claude (the very funny French-accented, bare-assed Hank Azaria). Lisa decides she needs time to think about her next step in life, so Reuben returns to the U.S. alone and brokenhearted.

Reuben's best and oldest friend is Sandy Lyle, a former child actor played note-perfect by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Let me interject here to say that Sandy Lyle deserves his own movie. Hoffman has taken on a role seems almost written for Jack Black. Sandy is crass, overweight, playing heavily off his success as a youth in a BREAKFAST CLUB-like film, now suffering the indignity of playing Judas in a community theatre version of "Jesus Christ Superstar." POLLY is worth paying money to see (either in theatres or rental) just for Hoffman's sublime performance. He steals every scene like a rock star. To help take his friend's mind off his heartbreak, Sandy takes Reuben to a gallery opening where Reuben runs into Polly Prince (Aniston), a waitress at the event with whom the two men went to high school. Reuben tracks her down after the event and asks her to dinner. In true Hollywood fashion, Polly is the exact opposite of Reuben: spontaneous, reckless, never considering the risk of any move she makes. Reuben falls in love instantly. Everything I've written about so far takes place in the first 30 minutes of the movie.

The bulk of POLLY is the scenes of Polly taking Reuben places where he feels ill-at-ease: Indian restaurants (Reuben doesn't like spicy food or eating with your hands); Latin dancing clubs (he doesn't dance), etc. You get the idea. But he's willing to put up with these against-type ordeals to be with Polly. Meanwhile at work, Reuben's man's man boss played by Alec Baldwin has given him the assignment of assessing the insurability of a daredevil industrialist named Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown). Both in his private and personal life, Reuben is assault by risk takers, and he finds himself learning from them.

There's nothing inherently wrong with ALONG CAME POLLY. It's heart is in the right place, and Still and Aniston is a nice pairing. There are some truly funny moments in the film, most of them supplied by Hoffman, but there are a few too many minutes between the big laughs. Based on its Number 1 ranking at last weekend's box office, I think it would be safe to categorize POLLY as a crowd-pleaser, and there's nothing wrong with that. Stiller has two more films being released in the near future (ENVY with Jack Black and STARSKY AND HUTCH with his long-time screen partner Owen Wilson); I'm looking forward to those a lot more than I was this.

Posted by sprokopy at January 19, 2004 10:25 PM