What is Along Came Polly? Is it a predictable romantic comedy Jennifer Aniston could star in in her sleep? A PG-13 gross-out comedy meant to edgelessly emulate There’s Something About Mary? A chance for Ben Stiller to get himself into yet another bungle of precarious situations so we can laugh at him instead of with him? A way to unintelligently subvert the normally clichéd trappings of its chintzy genre characteristics? I can hardly put a finger on what writer/director John Hamburg’s goal was with Along Came Polly, but it isn't successful film, not funny nor quirky enough to stand out as the anti-romantic comedy it so desperately wishes to be.
The hit-or-miss Ben Stiller (hilarious when in the right hands, irritating when attempting to save a film) misses as Reuben Feffer, a hapless company man whose perpetually planned out life is shattered when his wife, Lisa (Debra Messing), cheats on him with a muscly scuba instructor (Hank Azaria) on the second day of their honeymoon. Going back home in an understandably emotionally broken state, he decides to go head-on into his job, ignoring the doubts that eat at him night and day. Only a few weeks into mourning his marital loss, though, does he run into Polly Prince (Aniston), a free-spirited former junior high classmate who just may give him the relationship he’s been looking for.
But oh does Along Came Polly have trouble persuading. What does Polly like best about Reuben — is it is charming first-date explosive diarrhea, his romantic, informational speech about mixed nuts, his inability to decide which woman to start a life with after Lisa comes back into town pretending like she cares, or is it is startling capacity to get himself into completely avoidable situations that are somehow supposed to end in a cackle? (Consider the way he pretends to love spicy exotic food to impress Polly, only to wind up sweating like a baked pig and clogging her apartment’s toilet. Would Polly be offended if he ordered something else? I don’t think so.)
And what’s the best “wacky” feature about Polly — is it her habit of wearing farmer’s market scarves and baggy pants on a near daily basis, her ownership of a pet ferret, her life decision to drift from job to job and shop out of garbage cans when there’s good looking merchandise, or her adorkable flakiness? When the film isn’t attempting to build an enjoyably offbeat relationship between its mildly irritating leads, it prefers to fill itself up with gross-out gags that don’t work because they’re so upsettingly convoluted. They seem to exist only because Hamburg didn’t know what else to do.
But the most disappointing thing about Along Came Polly is its exasperating tendency to take its farcical supporting actors for granted. Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Reuben’s former child star best friend, gives a phenomenal comedic performance that provides the film with its biggest laughs; whenever he’s in the room, you momentarily believe that you’re watching something inspired and not something completely unsuccessful. Bryan Brown, as client-from-hell Leland Van Lew, tickles in his obnoxious lack of common sense. But, alas, the film doesn’t realize that its secondary performers are more riotous than its box-office saints, and it suffers trying on the clothes of a modern-day screwball romance. C-