Comedy is difficult to do well. Too mainstream, too obviously comical (think 50 First Dates, Mike King and most Hollywood romantic comedies) and it’s not really funny. Sure, you’ll half-smile when he slips on that banana skin, or she is caught doing that embarrassing dance after their first kiss – but there’s certainly none of that belly-deep laughter you really remember.
Equally, when comedy’s too obscure and in-house (think Kung Pow, Royal Tenenbaums and lots of the amateur stuff) then you spend most of the movie just thinking “What the ****?” Sure there’ll be some classic lines, like when the evil genius changes his name mid-movie to Betty, but it’s ultimately too flimsy and random and confusing.
For me, the best comedy skates between the two pitfalls. Ben Stiller, possibly Hollywood’s best comedic actor and the star of Along Came Polly, has made forays into both realms of comedy. On the one hand there were Meet the Parents and Keeping the Faith – more straight up and situation-orientated. But he’s also done the hilarious Zoolander – more satirical, silly and fun.
Along Came Polly fits more into the mould of the first bunch – it’s essentially romantic, it’s got the obligatory Hollywood hottie, people slip over and hurt themselves and there’s a scene involving Indian food, an overflowing toilet and a blind ferret.
So it’s ok. There’s an excellent supporting cast, including a new, gruff Alec Baldwin and Philip Seymour Hoffman’s hilarious slob character. Jennifer Aniston as the Polly of the title is not terribly funny, but not too bad either – so long as you can force yourself past Rachel from Friends. Then again, Polly isn’t too different from Rachel – they’re both likeable but dizzy city girls who fall for apparently boring guys. They look similar too.
But overall, the movie hangs on Stiller and his ability to carry another story as a timid loser coming right – this time as paranoid risk analyst, Reuben Feffer. He does all the old things right – the inappropriate bursts of indignation, the embarrassing scenes in toilets, dance clubs and restaurants. But there’s no Robert De Niro to parry with and a less involving narrative than Meet the Parents. So again I’ll say it was ok. But I’m hoping for better things with Starsky and Hutch.