- Jul 6, 2003
Along Came Polly
Film Length: 91 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; English – DTS 5.1; French, and Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1
June 8th, 2004
“Tell Me True – Are You For Scuba?”
Along Came Polly, starring gross-out comedy king Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston (Friends), is a film that I had serious reservations about as soon as I saw the trailer and understood what the premise was. I just knew that despite the talent involved the film would be bad, but my wife was gung-ho about seeing it, so you can guess what happened when it came out.
Basically, although it aspires to be both a love story about complete opposites coming together and an outrageous comedy all at once, writer-director John Hamburg’s script and execution never reaches the heights (or lows, depending on your point of view) that the Farrelly Brothers’ films regularly do. And although it is not easy for me to imagine that a movie can do too much wrong by devoting a good portion of its running time to placing Ben Stiller in embarrassing situations, in Along Came Polly, Ben’s shtick just does not come across as inspired or funny as usually does.
Furthermore, even the attractive pairing of Ben and Jen (thank god it is not that Ben and Jen) doesn’t mesh, as the romance is unconvincing, and there really doesn’t seem to be any reason why these characters should get together. The very worst offense is not that this film is formulaic, but that it offers nothing new, interesting, or exciting to the romantic comedy genre. Thus, although the film is not utterly terrible, it is just there, if you know what I mean.
As the story opens, we meet Reuben Feffer (Stiller), a risk analyst whose carefully planned, über-cautious existence is torn asunder when his brand new wife Lisa (Debra Messing) gets too friendly with a French scuba instructor named Claude (a muscle-bound Hank Azaria). And this happens to poor Reuben on the very first day of their honeymoon, no less! Returning to New York alone, Reuben is down in the dumps until he runs into an old acquaintance named Polly Prince (Aniston) at a party. The polar opposite of Reuben, Polly is a beautiful, free-spirited world traveler who owns a visually impaired pet ferret and loves living for the moment.
Now if you have ever seen a romantic comedy, you already know that Polly is destined to stir up Reuben's rigid existence, and the two will connect in spite of all the reasons they shouldn’t. That doesn’t stop writer-director John Hamburg (co-writer on Meet the Parents) does try to make things a little more complex by bringing a repentant Lisa back into the fold, but there is never any real suspense, or any sense of doubt as to where this story will leave the characters. Indeed, Hamburg’s script is so conservative and by-the-book that nearly every plot point can be predicted way in advance. Surely, this somewhat forgivable, as all romantic comedies are predictable, at least to an extent. What is unforgivable, however, is how the romance fails to work on any level, and that Stiller and Aniston exhibit very little in the way of the chemistry these films are so reliant upon for success.
That being the case, Ben Stiller is still very solid in the majority of the gag sequences, the best of which hinge on placing the neurotic, germ-phobic Reuben into some rather repulsive situations, including full contact basketball with an extremely hairy, sweaty man (yuck!). However, while Ben does his best to make it work, these situations are just not as inventive or funny as some of the things he has done in other films.
The terrific supporting cast, which features Philip Seymour Hoffman as Reuben's former-child-star pal, Sandy Lyle, and Alec Baldwin as Reuben's vulgar boss, also do a fine job. Indeed, the zany supporting characters, one of the film’s only real qualities, supply most of the laughs. The lone exception is Debra Messing, who is given next to nothing to do as Reuben’s ex-wife Lisa. This is a real shame, if you ask me, because Debra is a very talented performer!
Personally, I enjoyed the bits involving Sandy Lyle, who is so annoying, egocentric, and just plain sick that I found myself looking forward to every scene he appeared in. The sequence where he takes Reuben to a party with him, and then forces him to head out because he “sharted”
Similarly, Bryan Brown makes the most of his brief appearance as Leland, Reuben’s daredevil client who needs insurance to remain in control of his company. Bryan is just great in the scene where he plays racquetball with Reuben!
The leads, Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston, also put forth a pretty valiant effort, but these thinly written, undemanding roles are far beneath actors with their comedic gifts. This is particularly true of the Polly character, which remains one dimensional from the film’s beginning all the way through the end credits. Indeed, I thought Polly's incredibly noncommittal attitude toward everything, and her complete lack of growth at the end of the film was extremely frustrating. Others might feel differently, and that is their right, but, try as Jennifer might, Polly was simply too shallow and clumsily written for me to like the character.
To sum things up, thanks largely to some razor sharp work by the supporting players, Along Came Polly does manage to generate a few laughs, but most of the gags come and go very quickly, without leaving much of an impact. The weak plot simply transitions the viewer from one clichéd event to another, and the relationship between Reuben and Polly lacks credibility. All things considered, the film is not utterly terrible, but aside from the performances by Hoffman, Azaria, Baldwin, and Brown, there is nothing that really stands out.
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Along Came Polly is presented by Universal via an anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer that looks almost as good as Jennifer Aniston. To begin with, color rendering is handled adeptly, as the varied color palette in the film is adequately saturated, with no apparent dot crawl or chroma noise. Likewise, flesh tones are also natural in their appearance, with Aniston being depicted in all of her glory, and Philip Seymour Hoffman looking just as pale as he should.
Blacks are both dark and well defined, leading to plenty of shadow detail, although most of the film transpires in fairly well lit settings. Fine detail is very good as well, and as one might expect from a very recent production, the print exhibits almost no defects to speak of. As such, Reuben’s sterile residence, Polly’s vibrantly colored apartment, and the real/fake New York City locations are superbly rendered.
Lastly, the image appears to be free of edge enhancement halos and distracting compression artifacts. To sum it up, although I cannot say that it this is among the very best transfers I have ever seen, Along Came Polly is certainly pretty easy on the eyes.
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Along Came Polly comes fully loaded in the audio department, featuring no less than four 5.1 tracks, including both DTS and Dolby Digital for English speakers. For the purposes of this review, I selected the DTS track, which does a fine job of reproducing the film’s soundtrack. It is a romantic comedy, so this is not the most aggressive or dynamic film, in terms of audio information, but the DTS soundstage is wide enough to let the material breathe, frequency response is smooth and even, and music (both sourced and written for the film) is spread nicely across the front of the listening space.
For the sake of being thorough, I did compare this to the Dolby Digital track, and while both more than do the source material justice, the DTS track goes the extra mile, with slightly more realistic vocal timbres, better imaging (most evident in the storm and racquetball sequences), and tighter bass response.
Of course, in terms of LFE information, this is a comedy, so there is not a wealth of it, but the bottom end is powerful and well defined in the few instances when the source material requires it to be. In like fashion, the rear channels are not used extensively, but do fill in the soundstage during music reproduction, present ambient noises, and occasionally put forward some directional effects. Detailed audio information, like the sound of water hitting the floor after a toilet overflows, or a knife slicing through throw pillows, are also easily audible and realistically rendered.
Most importantly though, since this feature is heavy on dialogue, characters’ speech is natural sounding, easily discernable, and largely free of any disturbing abnormalities. Basically, you can’t go wrong with either the DTS or Dolby Digital audio on this disc, as both do a respectable job of relaying the events transpiring onscreen.
Feature Length Commentary
The yack track for Along Came Polly consists of commentary by writer/director John Hamburg, who provides quite a bit of information on the production of the film. To be more specific, Mr. Hamburg offers some interesting and amusing anecdotes about on-set happenings, a lot of information about the effort put forth by the production designers, and great insight into his ideas for the Polly and Reuben characters. Highlights included:
--- Discussions of ideas that were abandoned, the intent of certain sequences in the film, and revelations of ideas that came out of the rehearsal process.
--- A good discussion about the two-day process of Reuben defiling Polly’s bathroom at the end of their first date.
--- Candid comments about the difficulty he experienced balancing the comedic portions of the film against the more serious aspects of the story.
John’s delivery is a little bit dry at times, and some of his comments are not very “deep”, but there is certainly enough insight and behind-the-scenes information provided to recommend that fans of the film give this commentary a chance. If anything, at least it shows that he did make a legitimate effort to create a good movie.
The Making of Along Came Polly
This extra, which runs about ten-and-a-half minutes, offers a quick look at the story and the two lead characters’ strange relationship. The supporting characters’ contributions to the story are also discussed. This is done via some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with Ben Stiller, Jennifer Aniston, Debra Messing, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and director John Hamburg, among others.
Not particularly amusing or insightful, just your typical promotional “making of” featurette.
There are a total of seven deleted scenes, totaling about six minutes, which play as one reel. These can be viewed with or without commentary by writer/director John Hamburg. They are:
--- The Groom’s Room
This scene involves a discussion between Reuben and Sandy that took place just before the wedding. The intent of the scene was to introduce Sandy Lyle, and the fact that an E! – True Hollywood Story is being done on him.
--- Reuben & Lisa Dance
In this sequence, the newlyweds share their first dance together as husband and wife, and we see how poorly Reuben dances. In all likelihood, this scene was trimmed for pacing.
--- Lisa’s Rap
This scene, which was never going to be included in the final cut, features Lisa doing a rather absurd hip-hop declaration of love for Reuben.
--- Sandy Plays the Bagpipes
At Reuben and Lisa’s wedding reception, Mr. Sandy Lyle kills it on the bagpipes – to no one’s pleasure.
--- Full Length Elevator
This sequence is an extension of Reuben and Sandy going to a party together, which had to be trimmed down to get the MPAA to grant the film a PG-13 rating.
--- Indian Restaurant Parking Lot
After dinner, Reuben’s parents give him their opinion of Polly.
--- Stan at the Elevator
A very brief scene which features Stan and Reuben talking business outside of an elevator.
To be honest, although it is nice they were included, most of these scenes are rather brief, and not particularly funny, so it is probably a good thing they were excised. Of course, that is only my .02!
A little over four minutes of moderately amusing outtakes are provided, most of which feature Ben Stiller trying to pull himself together.
Original Opening to the Film
The original opening to the film, which runs a little over 1 minute, is quite different from the opening used in the final cut, and shows Reuben’s neurosis right off the bat. It can be viewed with or without commentary from John Hamburg.
Rodolfo Goes Hollywood
This silly featurette chronicles the adventures of Rodolfo the ferret, the “star” of Along Came Polly, who is getting ready for the film’s premiere. And who would want to miss his on-camera interview, and footage of his adoring fans?
Cast and Filmmaker Bios
Brief biographies and film highlights are provided for:
Philip Seymour Hoffman
John Hamburg (Writer/Director)
Danny Devito (Producer)
Micheal Shamberg (Producer)
Stacey Sher (Producer)
Jane Bartelme (Executive Producer)
Dan Levine (Executive Producer)
For your viewing pleasure, a list of the folks responsible for assembling the value added material has been made available.
The theatrical trailer for Along Came Polly is included.
NOTE: The disc also kicks off with previews for the DVD releases of Field of Dreams, Eurotrip, and Reality Bites. What is interesting about this, and perhaps validates the fact that members of places like the Home Theater Forum can make studios improve their offerings by voicing their opinions, is that these previews can be SKIPPED!!!
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Although it contains a few funny moments, and some nice work by some of the supporting cast, I think Along Came Polly has to be regarded as a disappointment, despite the fact it earned almost $90 million here in the U.S. It is quite simple for me: the generic plot, lack of chemistry between Stiller and Aniston, and superficial, less-than-lovable main characters add up to a film that is just not that entertaining.
On the other hand, if you disagree with my opinion of the film, or really feel like a blind buy/rental anyway, you should enjoy the DVD, as Universal has endowed the film with a slick transfer and solid 5.1 tracks (DTS baby!). There are also a fair amount of decent supplemental materials, even though a couple, like the “Rodolfo Goes Hollywood” featurette, are basically just filler. Honestly though, despite its solid presentation on DVD I cannot recommend this film to those who have not seen it. Even though I am a big Ben Stiller fan, I just feel like Along Came Polly is too empty and lifeless overall to warrant it.