For a time starting in the late 1990s and lasting into much of the first decade of the 2000s, Ben Stiller was seemingly the king of romantic comedies. I already covered the one that really put him on the map, which was the now disappointing There’s Something About Mary (1998). From there he did so many more of the same kind of film that they are too many to enumerate. In other words, eminently forgettable. Okay, you probably remember him in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (2004), but does The Heartbreak Kid (2007) ring any bells? That is only scratching the surface. Then again, he is a working actor, and if somebody wanted to cut him a check for being in whatever movie they were making, who are we to blame him for taking it? This review is meant to resurrect one little nugget from that time, Along Came Polly (2004). It is not his most memorable work, but neither should it be consigned to the dustbin of cinema.
Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller) is getting married. That is it. Movie over. I mean, that is the goal of most of these romantic comedies, right? Well, he and his bride, Lisa Kramer (Debra Messing), leave for their honeymoon on St. Bart’s shortly after their wedding. While there, Claude (Hank Azaria), a naked scuba instructor, approaches offering to take them diving. Reuben declines, citing a list of phobias and other fears of taking risks that make him an excellent insurance adjustor. While Lisa goes off with a nude man (I did not understand the logic there), Reuben returns to their room to prepare for a romantic night. When he returns to pick her up, he walks in on her and Claude in the middle of the carnal act. He is understandably devastated and returns to New York alone. Upon getting back to work, everyone seems to know about his tropical betrayal and they believe he needs more time to grieve. He is more interested in plunging back into his job as a means of taking his mind off Lisa. Thinking that he needs to let loose a little, his best friend and one time movie star, Sandy Lyle (Philip Seymour Hoffman), invites him to a party at an art opening. While there, Reuben encounters Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), a person he had known in middle school, and who is working as a server for a catering service. Polly is everything that Reuben is not. Where he is calculating, most of what she does is on a whim. His irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) keeps him from eating most countries’ cuisine, and she takes him to a restaurant for their first date that involves eating with your hands. It is an all too familiar tale of opposites attracting, but it works here because each needs a bit of what the other has in their life. For Reuben it is variety, and for Polly it is stability. Reuben is also getting a lesson in the benefits of taking chances from Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown), a new client seeking life insurance from Reuben’s company. In the process of interviewing Leland to determine whether or not he is worth the investment, Reuben learns that it is possible to take part in extreme activities and be happy. Things are going well until Lisa shows up in Reuben’s apartment one night after finally leaving St. Bart’s. Given that their marriage had never ended, she hopes that he can forgive her and that they can carry on with their relationship. Initially, he is dead set against the idea, but then Polly behaves as if she is not actually his girlfriend. Making matters worse is when she discovers a benefits analysis he did weighing the risks being with either Polly or Lisa. Polly does not appreciate being part of an equation and makes up her mind to leave the city without Reuben. Ultimately, Reuben’s father Irving (Bob Dishy) reminds his son that focusing on who will be less of a risk to be with is no way of going about life. This clinches it for Reuben, who convinces Polly to take him back by eating nuts off the ground. And then they go back to St. Bart’s together? I did not understand the ending, but there you go.
Yes, there were a couple moments in Along Came Polly that did not add up. I could have also done without seeing Hank Azaria and Ben Stiller’s fleshy behinds. Finally, the whole thing about not wanting to out labels on relationships, to just kind of date for the sake of dating which is the idea upon which the film lands, is a little dangerous in the view of this Catholic. Not that casual relationships cannot be a thing. That is called friendship, and I believe a dictionary will back me up on this one. Anything beyond that, without labels, more often leads to heartbreak in my experience. In the end, though it does make for a good character arc for Reuben and Polly, the vague direction of their relationship is slightly uncomfortable. Call me a square Catholic, but dating should have a defined goal, that being to see if you are compatible for marriage. If that is not where things are headed, then there is no point in continuing to be together as a couple. This is where matters can get tricky. It is possible to remain friends if you and your significant other do not make it to the altar, and I am thankful for times where this has been the case. Either way, in my view it is best to make relationships into an either/or proposition. That is simplifying the matter a bit, and clearly there is more to being with someone. Yet, leaving things up in the air as Reuben and Polly do without communicating true desires or intentions can cause more harm than either of the other two courses.
One other aspect of Along Came Polly that I want to call attention to is Lisa. I am struggling to think of another cinematic character to which to compare her. We have seen wives cheat on their husbands in movies. Usually, this is the result of some kind of flaw in their personality, as if one should have seen it coming because that is who that person really is in the end. And certainly such a person would not return humbly saying they are sorry. Lisa’s seemingly true repentance calls into question whether or not she is should be forgiven. Of course, forgiveness is a corner stone of Christianity. However, such ideas are between you and God, or in the case of the movie, Reuben and Lisa. Granted, trust would be a difficult issue to overcome, but would it have been so terrible had he taken her back? This is where Faith truly shines because the only One capable of true healing is God. I could be wrong, but it is doubtful that any of the three in this love triangle care at all about praying, but it would be an excellent way for this situation to be better resolved.
The last two paragraphs probably make it sound like I did not enjoy Along Came Polly as much as I indicated at the outset. I get it. I probably will never see Ben Stiller in the kind of film that upholds Christian values in a relationship. I likely also made Christian dating seem a lot more serious than it actually is on a daily basis. Still, it is important to be aware of alternatives. You can enjoy a movie like this one, but know that not putting labels on relationships is not always a good thing.