I don't know why, but I've always been a fan for the underdog, especially when it comes to movies. Still, there are certain films which I approach with trepidation, such as Along Came Polly. It hit theaters in January, which is usually the dumping ground for studio films. It was dismissed by critics. And it stars Ben Stiller, whom I like, but he is also an actor who has been in some questionable films lately. (Things could have only been worse if Along Came Polly had been a remake of a French movie -- a sure kiss of death.) So, I didn't expect much from the movie, and was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it.
Stiller stars in Along Came Polly as Reuben Feffer, an anxious man who works as a risk management analyst for an insurance company. Although Reuben is always cautious of taking any kind of risks, he feels that he's making a safe move by marrying realtor Lisa (Debra Messing). But, that assessment changes when Lisa cheats on Reuben with a French scuba-diving instructor (Hank Azaria) on their honeymoon. Dejected, Reuben returns home to New York City, where is consoled by his best friend, child actor Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Reuben accompanies Sandy to a party where he runs into Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), an old friend from middle school. Delighted to see Polly again, Reuben works up the nerve to ask her out. He soon learns that Polly is very bohemian, having traveled the world, never staying still for long, and is the exact opposite of the super-cautious Reuben. Yet, after just a few dates, he begins to feel very drawn to her and can't help but wonder if they could work out their differences and work as a couple.
When it comes to comedies, I have only one criteria: make me laugh. Despite some flaws, Along Came Polly succeeded in that realm. First of all, those who feel that Ben Stiller plays the same neurotic character over and over will find plenty of ammunition in this film. Reuben Feffer isn't all that different from the characters which Stiller portrayed in Meet the Parents, There's Something About Mary, or Duplex. Secondly, the "opposites attract" plot has been done many times before, and aside from Polly's blind ferret Rodolfo, Along Came Polly brings nothing new to that premise. Aniston proves that she can move beyond her Rachel Green persona from Friends, but the Polly character is underwritten (she's a hippy, that's about it) and Aniston doesn't duplicate the promise which she showed in The Good Girl.
However, Along Came Polly is able to overcome those problems and deliver solid laughs. Although we've seen this shtick before, Still turns in a good performance as Reuben, and plays the neurotic nature of this character to the hilt. We love Reuben even though he's a fussy man who wants to be in control of his life, and yet, never seems to be. And while Stiller is good, the film is stolen by three other actors. Hank Azaria is always funny and his mastery of odd accents is uncanny, but he turns in a truly brave performance as Claude, the French scuba instructor who mangles English. Alec Baldwin has a few scenes as Reuben's boss, a man who speaks his mind and isn't afraid to touch his employees. But, it's Philip Seymour Hoffman who truly dazzles in this movie. The Sandy Lyle character may be the most purely comedic role which Hoffman has had to date. From pratfalls to his show-stopping scene during the final reel, Hoffman shines, and I still giggle when I think about his excuse for leaving the party. Director and long-time Stiller collaborator John Hamburg keeps things moving along nicely and demonstrates a fine sense of comedic timing. Along Came Polly never reaches the comedic or gross-out levels of There's Something About Mary, but it's similar in the sense that it has some truly outlandish moments and will appeal to both males and females.
Along Came Polly comes to DVD courtesy of Universal Home Video. The film is coming to DVD in two separate releases, one full screen and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is very good, as it shows few defects. The image is very sharp and clear, displaying basically no grain and zero defects from the source material. The colors are good, but the image is slightly dark in some scenes. The artifacting is kept to a minimum, but there is some noticeable edge-enhancement problems at times.
The Along Came Polly DVD features both a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track, as well as a DTS 5.1 track. Both tracks provide clear and audible dialogue and show no blemishes. The stereo effects are good on both, but the surround sound and subwoofer response is somewhat lacking. There are three dance club scenes in the film. During two of those scenes, there is essentially no LFE response on either track. In the other scene, there is some bass. The surround effects mostly come from street noise, crowd sounds, and musical cues. For a comedy, the audio is fine, but somewhat lacking.
The DVD contains several extra features. We start with an audio commentary from director John Hamburg. He speaks at length throughout the film touching on his actors, locations, and the production. Having worked with Stiller in the past, he has nothing but good things to say about his leading man and is very complimentary of Stiller's patience during multiple takes. "The Making of Along Came Polly is a 10-minute featurette which offers the behind-the-scenes footage, clips and comments from the likes of Stiller, Aniston, Hoffman, Azaria, and Hamburg. "Rodolfo Goes Hollywood" (5 minutes) is a truly odd extra as Jim Moret follow the ferret star of the film to the movie's premiere. This is sort of cute, but ultimately pointless, as we learn nothing about ferrets. The DVD contains 7 deleted scenes, which encompass about 6 minutes of footage. These can be viewed with or without commentary from director John Hamburg. We also have the 90-second original opening to the film, which has optional director commentary. This is a scene with Reuben at work which introduces some themes noted a little later in the film. The 5-minute Outtake Reel offers some good laughs, once again, especially from Azaria. The theatrical trailer for Along Came Polly is here, letterboxed at 1.85:1. Finally, we have cast & crew notes.
In many ways, Along Came Polly is standard Hollywood fare. But, that's OK, because it is actually funny and entertaining. Stiller's performance won't challenge anyone, and Aniston is just OK, but the other actors are fantastic and the movie contains some great laugh-out-loud scenes.