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Along Came Polly

Seen: 2004.01.22   ¶   Reviewed: 2004.02.16

Well, I knew that DVS had produced a Home Video version of There’s Something About Mary, rather eliciting quite a few mental images and question marks, but this was my maiden voyage in the somewhat rarefied genre of Accessible Gross-Out Comedies.

I don’t see how those, as a genre, are any worse than horror or, of course, war movies, which I am now selectively boycotting. Everybody poops, to use Shakespeare’s immortal formulation. Cute jewishy Ben Stiller plays uptight ever so well – and ever so frequently, it appears. And it isn’t just grossing out that seems to be at work with Stiller, it’s embarrassment – see Flirting with Disaster. If you prefer your uptight cute jewishy embarrassment served with bitters, dig up the all-but-suppressed Neil LaBute feature Your Friends and Neighbours, which you may have to search for under the American spelling.

As a tightly-wound perfectionist whom untrained observers assume is simply uptight, you don’t need to send a singing telegram to get me to notice that I structurally resemble B. Stiller in this picture. An insurance-adjuster neat freak with irritable bowel syndrome? How is this significantly different from me? Answer: He wears more suits and has more chrome in his apartment. (I don’t have irritable bowel syndrome, but I am a veganist.)

Sadly, I must register an objection to the seemingly airtight theme of the picture, which is that free spirits really know how to live and geeks should loosen up a little. I would say the filmmakers – who are they, exactly? I really didn’t notice – picked exactly the wrong example to run with, namely B. Stiller’s apparently paranoid insistence that “beer nuts” are laden with bacteria from everybody’s fingers. Much later on, after the revelation that he really ought to give free-spirited Jennifer Aniston a chance (and believe you me, I will get to her shortly), our man eats filthy Manhattan-street-vendor roasted nuts off the Manhattan street.

There’s being uptight and there’s being sensible. If you have irritable bowel syndrome, do you really need further bacteria lodging themselves in there? Ask anyone who’s taken a few laps around the pond in Thailand (or simply gone on a camping trip) and come home with giardia. “Uptight” people may stop themselves from doing things they know will harm them. (On a personal note, a decade and a half of sunscreen fanaticism has left me with skin my Chinese-Jamaican dermatologistrix adjudges to be “nice.” How’s yours after all that time on the golf course?)

So: Uptight functionary nerds of the world, unite and do another set of dishes! You have nothing to lose but an artificially-shortened lifespan.

Now. One can hardly discuss any Hollywood starlet without reference to Godard’s dictum that starlets need be nothing more than beautiful. (This could explain my francesmcdormandist tendencies. She’s still got a career!) Actresses merely have to play the role (the function, the slot) of Catherine Zeta-Jones to whatever Michael Douglas is starring in the picture.

J. Aniston is a paradox, if not an outright counterexample, given that she was so shockingly credible as a poor chick employed at a Wal-Mart manqué in The Good Girl. When the performance works and the underlying role is actually written smartly (and I do not refer to “strong” women; I don’t believe in that ideology), you are forced to look back on your own experience and admit that some working-class girls you’ve known really have been that pretty. (I seem to recall an entire song by Jennifer Lopez on that theme.)

What sticks in the craw, then, is a generalized attempt to cast nothing but beautiful young actresses in every “female” role. (You’ve got your roles and your female roles, like you’ve got your roles and your black roles, or your gay roles, or your disabled roles.) There is such a thing as casting against type, but that little catchphrase is mostly seen in beautiful, dainty, airheaded actresses playing every female role under the sun. (My perennial example is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio as an engineer in The Abyss. I’m sorry! The one and only beautiful girl in engineer school at Dal was nothing like her! M.-E. Mastrantonio doesn’t look like she can change her own oil, let alone keep an undersea base going.)

I must thus report that somebody decided to slot the lovely and talented J. Aniston into a role that requires someone fatter, more vulgar, less blond, and simply dirtier. You can dress her up in a knit cap and beads, but you can’t take her out to the Casbah. Couscous-eating world travelers don’t have Pilates physiques and perfect complexions.

I’m gonna give the chick credit, though, along with her partner in crime (Missi Pyle, a name that simply makes my week), for putting the poncy art opening on the map as a setting for hilarious employee subterfuge. I kept flashing on Steve Martin’s lesbiana friend making sure the coast was clear for him to roller-skate (on quads!) through the art gallery. Girls who blithely pour red wine into white-wine glasses, sit around yakking on the phone and eating everybody else’s canapés, and make lewd gestures with baguettes are my kind of people.

Oh, but I mustn’t forget: Philip Seymour Hoffman and the other fatties and hairies in the picture? Played for ridicule. Laughing at, not with. Apparently only fatties and hairies poop after all, and they do it at art openings served by wanton cater-waitresses.

Theatre experience

It’s just one thing after another, isn’t it?

We ask for the gear and I do my standard thing of asking the playa at the desk (Australian!) “You’re not going to ask us to sign ourselves in, right? Because then we can see the names of people who came before us.” He thinks that’s the procedure, and, in conformance with my delightful new deal with Famous Players, I get him to call a manager over. Seconds later, by coincidence, a manager shows up alongside me. I chat him up.

I carefully ask the only question I ever ask (“Has head office given you [or the playaz, in this case] any training on the new Privacy Act?”) and I am told they have to take down names and numbers because of “all the money” that has been spent on the equipment. “I wish you hadn’t answered me that way,” I calmly and levelly respond, which prompts the guy to say the whole thing over again! So I say exactly the same thing back, and mention that this is a large corporation we’re dealing with, the reflectors are maybe $50 each (perhaps that’s $75 Canadian if you include tax, exchange, and shipping), and there is no known history of people walking off with them.

We have a perfectly reasonable conversation and the manager apologizes for what he’d said before. Quite all right, I tell him. He’s new at Yonge & Eglinton, but had worked at another MoPix-equipped theatre. I then ask about the Privacy Act training. He’s never heard of it. I mention a couple of other ways they could handle sign-in procedures. I ask him to take a look at the book and find out if anybody had signed in past January 4, the last time I was at Yonge & Eglinton, as is now notorious. Yes, somebody was signed in on January 9. So much for the instructions given to the playa at The Last Samurai to stop asking for ID and/or name and/or phone number.

We go in, we get seats no problem, and I head out, as is custom, for my lavish and decadent glass of ice water. What a coincidence: There’s the manager standing at the desk talking to the manageress who had ratted me out to head office. I knew better than to say anything to this woman, whom we would later discover to be a wee bit trigger-happy.

Caption quality

Absolute definite dead and voided pixels in the display, along with dim ones.

That floor looks like a Slip 'n Slide, dude: It’s the official orthography, but I don’t have to like it.

Hideous linebreak:

They're making an "E!
True Hollywood Story" about me.

It was arguably necessary, as True Hollywood Story" about me. is 31 characters and we only have 32 to play with. I would have gone to three lines.

Hideous, indefensible caption break:

I don't
believe this.

(grunts). Yes. But he also farts at the same time. Ben Stiller: A symphony of effluvia in one cute jewishy package.

We could perhaps decide what euphemism to use for “fart,” though. (I’ve seen it in other MoPix captions.) Our choices in this picture are (passing wind) and (breaking wind). Also (high-pitched flatulence) – surely the very best kind there is.

Isn’t 37 Gansevort street in New York actually 37 Gansevoort Street?

Another note I’ve got here merely reads: BASE jumping. Another official orthography?

Description quality

DVS mainstay Miles Neff is our narrator. The volume dial on the headset has play in all four directions: It’s loose fore, aft, and side to side. That’s a first. And audio is squelchy, as ever in this cinema.

Alec Baldwin, at the Jewish wedding reception (you can’t de-Jew Stiller!), picks up a microphone and makes a lewd joke. He “pumps the mike through the hole!” made by his thumb and forefinger. But whoopsy – shouldn’t we have mentioned it’s a cordless mike? (How else could he pump it, baby?) And: “Polly’s friend erotically pumps a loaf of French bread, teasing her.” Sounds like leading the witness, but trust me, that’s what she was doing – including the teasing.

“Now, svelte young women and men stroll the beach.” They are and they do. “As she kisses him, a muscular man with blond hair approaches.... The sun shines on his bare butt!” (That’s Hank Azaria, by the way. He’s intrinsically funny, and actually unrecognizable here.) Later: “He quickly nuzzles her well-exposed cleavage.” Stay out of that sun, Jennifer!

On a boat, Hank is still nude, holding a flipper in front of his naughty bits: “His naked torso shows above the flipper and his bare legs show below.” But later, when he comes ashore from the boat, we aren’t told he’s wearing a swimsuit.

“Five pairs of decorative throw pillows”: So we have gone back to using that term!

A sign reading “Aéroport St Barts, 2.6 km” just has the first three words read out. This annoys me disproportionately when I see it.

Now. You thought I was being oversensitive about the fatties and hairies? It’s so obvious we even heard about it in DX: “Hair blankets his back and flabby chest.” You do realize that’s a selling feature at some bars in major metropolises worldwide? Sandy, by the way (that is, P.S. Hoffman), is DXed once as a “slobby friend.”

Are we done yet? Not hardly! This one’s an approximate transcription, though: “In slow motion, his flabby, sweat-covered stomach scrapes across Reuben’s face, slathering the downy hairs on his cheek.” I think our writer at DVS was trying to round us up some dignity here. Plus I like the bit about the downy hairs on the cheek. What can I say? I have stillerist tendencies anyway.

Ooh! More mouthing! “Polly mouths ‘You do?’ ”

“He fidgets and unloosens a button on his shirt.” I know! I hate it when I loosen a button on my shirt and feel like somebody’s tightening a noose around my neck. Is “unloosen” like “inflammable”?


The homosexualist Latin dance instructor (complete with Herb Alpert–style sugar daddy) is rendered as Javi in captions and “Javier” in descriptions. (The official site doesn’t list him; IMDB lists him as Javier, but screws up the actor’s name. No, I’m not gonna link you.)

Exit interview

Well, let’s recount the benign part first since it happened first. As ever, when the lights go up some people either politely or merely dumbfoundedly stare at us. I have taken to chatting up Mr. X and/or Mr. Y so I don’t have to make eye contact. Tonight it’s a couple of girls in the row right ahead of us, so there is no escape.

“Is it for the projector?” one of them asks. Mr. X attempts to explain. It’s not going well. “I’ve never seen this system before,” she says with a discernible accent. “They don’t have them in Oz,” I tell her. “Is that were you think we’re from? Oz?” she says in a tone more readily used with babies who need reassurance. “Where are you from?” I ask her. “Oz,” she admits in the same tone. I say it’s a reflector for the captions, and point at the rear-mounted display. “That’s good,” she tells us, still very much using the same tone, as though congratulating us for colouring within the lines.


The manager happened to be at the desk when we trundled out. I explained about the squelchy audio (the easier term “staticky” went over better, so I should probably use that from now on). He thanked me by name, which caused me a great deal of alarm given recent happenings. He explained that, to the best of his knowledge, they have to “take ID,” meaning he would “have to” take my name the next time I came by. No, this didn’t make any sense.

How did you learn my name? I asked him with great calm. You gave it downstairs, he said. No, I didn’t, I told him. The playa signed me in under my Big Card, but I did not tell anyone my name. Well, he said, he was talking to the other manager(ess).

Now this got interesting. What did the other manager tell you about me? I asked. Nothing, he said. Except to be very courteous. Ah. You’re sure she didn’t say anything else at all about me? I asked, because I am very concerned about what that manager says about me when I am not present. No, he said again.

Well, the very next day as I was walking out of the shower the phone rang and of course I knew it was Famous Players. Guess who ratted me out again? Why, no, not the manager I had actually dealt with in such an even-handed and responsible way, but the very same manageress again!

And the best part? Everything I was accused of was false. I didn’t give the playa a hard time about sign-in; I complied with my deal with Famous and had him call for a manager, who arrived spontaneously anyway. My use of the term “playa” (it’s hiphop slang and is readily Googlable) is viewed as proof my “condescending” attitude toward these kids. I was accused of the same thing several times during the call, which prompted this catchphrase from U.S. courtroom dramas: “Asked and answered, counselor.”

And of course there was the vague threat to take away my Big Card, which Famous Players had only ever done in cases of “abuse,” and I was specifically told I am not abusing the card. (Of course I’m not.) I refused to respond, because if I had said anything, it would have had to be “If you take away my Big Card, I become a paying customer. I won’t have to stand for even slightly imperfect service and I certainly won’t have to sit through these phone calls.”

I was and am innocent of all charges. I was told that the managers at Yonge & Eglinton are perhaps a bit “sensitive.” Well, they’re your employees and you can tell them not to be sensitive, I replied. I have a deal with Famous Players that I follow in letter and spirit, including on this very occasion.

Yet as ever, Famous Players prefers to whale on me rather than fixing the MoPix problems. It’s now actually institutionalized: One specific manageress is on a vendetta. Abetted by her manager, who saw the first E-mail she sent and let it through and who is, by all appearances, doing nothing to stop her from sending other E-mails without supervision, this manageress is more interested in making up stories about me and my personality than in actually solving captioning and description breakdowns.

What’s the real problem here?

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