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John Hamburg wrote several movies for Ben Stiller, most recently Zoolander and Meet the Parents. With Along Came Polly Hamburg is finally directing, which is good for him, but bad for audiences.

The Honeymoon’s Over

Stiller finds fertile ground for grossout jokes
Stiller finds fertile ground for grossout jokes

Hamburg’s screenplay is actually fertile ground for comedy. Stiller plays Ruben, a meek, bland risk analyst who is squeamish about germs and timid about adventures. The movie opens on his wedding, but since his wife isn’t Jennifer Aniston, we know it won’t last. In fact, the honeymoon ends when he catches his wife knocking flippers with her scuba instructor.

His buddy Sandy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) tries to help him rebound, when along comes Polly (Aniston), an old friend from junior high. She’s a slob who loves spicy food and salsa dancing.

The movie uses the old romantic-comedy formula of keeping the couple apart for as long as the plot will allow. Admirably, the script even has Ruben saying at one point, “I really like you but I just don’t think this is gonna work out.” It’s a surprisingly mature thing for a movie character to say, particularly in a romantic comedy. It also shows that, as a writer, Hamburg doesn’t just take the path of least resistance.

But elsewhere, the script is less inspired. There are some ridiculous plot devices such as a roomful of businessmen buying a hare-brained presentation, and the sudden excuse for a chase scene at the end: “Didn’t you hear? Polly’s leaving town in two hours, dude.”

Wasted Potential

With Ruben being so squeamish, the movie is a springboard for grossout jokes. Most of these are in the trailer: a hairy, obese basketballer drips sweat on Ruben’s face; his boss, after urinating, pats Ruben on the neck. His first date with Polly triggers his irritable bowel syndrome, which lands him on her toilet without enough TP.

Even if you find this sort of thing funny, the movie is still hard to recommend because the jokes are so few and far between. Actually, Polly scores more jokes than many comedies, but perhaps because so little was done (compared to its potential), it seems like less. For example, Polly has a “blind” ferret, who takes a few pratfalls. But compared to the dog in There’s Something about Mary, the ferret seems like an afterthought.

The supporting cast, too, seems wasted. Hank Azaria is brilliant as the French nudist scuba instructor, but he upstages the stars. Hoffman is an extremely talented actor, but in Polly (as in Cold Mountain) he’s reduced to talking about his bowel movements. Aniston fleshes out Polly far beyond how she appears in the trailers, but she still ends up being little more than “the girl.”

So in spite of some great potential and a wonderful cast, Along Came Polly still falls short of a recommendation. Let’s hope Hamburg goes back to focusing on his writing, which is much better than his direction.