Passion. It’s what gets people out of bed in the morning, fuels professional pursuits and provides a measure of meaning to otherwise listless lives. Every famous historical figure had a passion. Martin Luther yearned to restore doctrinal and ecclesiastical purity to Christ’s church. The Wright Brothers aspired to free mankind of the shackles that bound him to earth. And Reuben Feffer wants to manage and control every little bit of risk in his life.
A star employee at a large insurance firm, Reuben can tell you exactly how likely it is that you’ll fall through a subway grate to your death or be flattened by a car while sipping your mocha latte. He's a whiz-bang kid when it comes to weighing life’s perils and making safe decisions, so when it came to picking a wife, Reuben effortlessly applies his well-honed professional expertise to the process ... and finds himself the perfect wife. Lisa's cute. She’s kind. She’s got a stable job. And she’s safe. But on the first day of their tropical honeymoon, Reuben's smug risk analysis gets blown to smithereens when he catches his newly beloved rumpling the sheets with a French scuba diver named Claude.
Crushed and heartbroken, Reuben returns home and tries to pick up where his life left off. At the prompting of his best friend—child-star-gone-to-seed Sandy Lisle—Reuben drops in on a party where he bumps into an old classmate, Polly Prince. Like Lisa, Polly is cute, kind and has a stable job, so Reuben drums up enough courage to ask her out. What Reuben quickly learns, however, is that Polly is anything but safe. She's a free spirit who has a passion for spicy ethnic foods (he has irritable bowel syndrome), sizzling salsa dancing (he has the rhythm of a darter snail) and snack nuts at bars (he has always avoided them since only one in six people washes his hands after using the restroom). Tack on the fact that Polly abhors commitments of any kind and Reuben’s placid lifestyle is about to get pretty choppy.
Although Reuben’s ultimate conclusions about the subject of marriage leave much to be desired, a few sentiments are admirable. He expresses genuine love for Lisa, secretly buying her a house and going out of his way to make their honeymoon special. Immediately after the affair, he professes his desire to stay married, despite her infidelity. Additionally, Reuben’s dad proffers the marginally helpful advice that it’s better to live in the present than in the past or the future.
Reuben and Lisa have a Jewish wedding. Reuben confesses that he believes in destiny. Later he pledges his everlasting devotion to God if He will stop a clogged toilet from overflowing. Sandy appears in a community theater production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
Jokes include jabs at penis size, erections, premature ejaculation, orgasms and promiscuity. A couple of sight gags mimic intercourse. When viewers first meet Claude he isn’t wearing anything (the camera focuses on his bare rear). While most of Lisa and Claude's romp remains off screen, moviegoers hear thumping and orgasmic groaning, and a quick shot shows the entwined couple covered by a sheet.
Polly dons a number of revealing outfits. On an exotic island, women frolic in tiny bathing suits. Reuben fills his pockets with condoms in preparation for his first date with Polly. Although he doesn’t get “lucky” that time, they sleep together on the next date (audiences see Polly’s hot pant-clad backside and sexual motions under the covers). Sandy waxes eloquent about erotic joys of spanking women, but Polly is less than thrilled when Reuben tries it on her. Salsa dancing involves lots of seductive stroking and grinding. When Reuben gets mad at one of Polly’s salsa partners for his lascivious moves, the man reveals that he is homosexual. Reuben’s boss mentions vacationing in Barbados with his mistress. The film ends with a shot of Reuben’s nude rump.
Mostly slapstick. While carrying Lisa into their honeymoon suite, Reuben accidentally drops her, leaving a wicked bruise on her thigh. Reuben hurls an answering machine across the room. Sandy takes a couple of spills on a waxed dance floor. Reuben bowls over a large statue at an art gallery. Polly’s blind pet ferret exists for no other reason than to violently slam itself into walls, trash cans and trees.
A client of Reuben’s insurance company throws himself off a skyscraper while wearing a parachute (he crashes into a tree), bloodily loses a tooth while playing an intense game of racquetball and smashes a sailboat into jagged breakers. Polly and Reuben find it cathartic to disembowel throw pillows with a large knife. A children’s book illustrated by Polly features a story dubbed “The Boy With a Nub for an Arm” (the requisite illustrations show a cartoonishly bloody severed limb).
Drug and Alcohol Content
Beer and champagne turn up at Reuben’s wedding. Claude blames his affair with Lisa on the white wine they drank. Sandy mentions his affinity for pot grown by a Dutch artist. Polly’s job is to keep patrons’ wine glasses full at posh parties. Reuben downs shots at a dance club. Sandy swills suds while relaxing at home. Reuben’s boss pops some pills during a tense meeting.
Other Negative Elements
Plenty of scatological cracks—which have as their subject matter urination, flatulence, defecation, diarrhea, vomiting and food that’s either incredibly messy, greasy or befouled—get screen time. One particularly painful scene involves an intestinally distressed Reuben perching on Polly’s toilet for an interminable amount of time, only to discover that she is out of toilet paper. A really sweaty guy accidentally slops his bare, hairy chest against Reuben’s face while playing basketball.
Though Reuben seems initially committed to the sanctity of marriage, he ends up concluding he doesn’t need to worry about it so much since Polly has such an aversion to commitment. His solution is to simply “live in the moment” with his new squeeze and see what develops.
Writer/director John Hamburg doesn’t pad his screwball comedies with lots of obvious punch lines, preferring instead to derive humor from the incongruous and uncomfortable situations in which his quirky characters find themselves. And it doesn't hurt that Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston’s comic timing is dead on. At the screening I attended, the audience provided its own roaring laugh track to the social (and intestinal) misadventures of Reuben, Polly and their oh-so-dysfunctional cohorts.
But there’s more to movies than getting a few hearty laughs. Along Came Polly viewers will also ingest skewed messages about marriage’s importance (or lack thereof), sexual gags galore and multiple misuses of God’s name. Ultimately, all the raunch and disrespect make the film’s already ambiguous moral messages seem tacked on and insincere, and its mirth self-conscious and hollow.