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Jewish World Review
March 31, 2004
/ 9 Nisan, 5764
Along Came Toxic Jewish Women
Introducing the post-Jewish American Princesses
It was, I suppose, inevitable that a film like "Along Came Polly" would actually come along.
Jewish women began to be mercilessly mocked in films during the Sixties and Seventies. In the Eighties and Nineties, they were, by and large, ignored in films by Jewish men. So was it not to be expected that they would be depicted, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, as toxic to Jewish men?
|Ben Stiller and Jennifer Aniston|
When upper thirty-something Reuben Feffer (played by Ben Stiller) marries the Jewish woman of his dreams, and in a traditional Jewish ceremony, he is delighted. This woman, portrayed by Debra Messing in short snippets while moonlighting from Will and Grace, is not only Jewish and beautiful, but an ace real estate agent. But is trouble not foreshadowed when Reuben quips during his wedding remarks that his beloved has gouged him on the rent?
While the couple vacations on an island of paradise, a nude scuba diving instructor (Hank Azaria) invites the honeymooners on a voyage of diving lessons. Reuben decides that he does not want to scuba dive, and sends his bride for the lessons. When he goes to pick her up, he discovers that she has sought other kinds of lessons from the instructor; he catches them in bed together along with the diving gear.
Depressed, ashamed, Reuben returns to his office to discover that everyone knows about his humiliating honeymoon. When he asks how his co-workers have found out so quickly, we learn that his mother (Michelle Lee) announced it to everyone. Indeed, Mother does not stop blurting out the story to all whom she sees.
At a party to which he is dragged by his zany former-child-star best friend (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in the film's best performance), Reuben is spotted by Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston, on hiatus from Friends), a former classmate in seventh grade, now an alluring if adventure-craving woman. Her quirks are those of impulsiveness; his, obsessive and neurotic. After all, Reuben's profession is risk analysis for an insurance company, and he is most frustrated of all that he could not predict the risk factors in his ill-fated marriage.
Reuben is attracted to Polly and pursues her awkwardly. With her help, he catches her, and gets caught up in her colorful hobbies and activities. Though his stomach tells him that he should avoid this romance, his heart keeps thrusting him forward. Neither the mezuzah on his door nor the dress pillows left behind by his wife can daunt Reuben from an affair with a woman very much unlike the Jewish women depicted in the film, a woman who is nice.
Just as the romance seems to progress despite difficult beginnings, Reuben's bride turns up, intent on resuming the marriage after her fling with the scuba instructor proves disappointing. Somehow, the impression is given that the instructor is relieved. All that we really know about the wife is that during her "passionate" affair she was selling real estate like crazy on the island. (A stereotype of the "trophy" businesswoman wife?) Polly happens to be with Reuben when he returns to find his regretful new wife in the apartment, and she quickly and thoughtfully takes leave in order to enable the couple to talk.
In a weak moment Reuben invites his wife to his friend's new play. The ex child star wreaks havoc with the production to the point that the audience is swept into the dispute, including Reuben's father. Dad soliloquizes that this friend has to learn how to go on with his life and to take his own future in his hands. Everyone is impressed with Dad's words of wisdom, especially since Mom never before let him get a word in edgewise. Dad's advice inspires Reuben to send his wife packing and to pursue Polly, the woman of his dreams. The plot even allows for the best friend to find possible career rewards at Reuben's business.
While Reuben and Polly are forging their relationship, he asserts: "I had a mother who made me afraid of everything." She confesses, "My dad had a whole second family." The Jewish men are no more impressive than the Jewish women or the Gentile men (including a daredevil to whom Reuben is assigned). Reuben is lacking in sense and in character. His Jewish boss (Alec Baldwin), who calls Reuben the "best expert in the whole meshugass [craziness] we call the insurance business," casually mentions that his schedule is determined by a pending trip to Barbados with his mistress.
"Along Came Polly" adopts an anti-marriage position. Or was that the proposition all along? Early on, Reuben tells Polly: "I don't want to get married. I just want to take you to dinner some time this week."
. The film ends with an interesting flourish. In an obvious ploy to test Polly, a "wiser" Reuben brings her to the same island and exposes her to the same exhibitionist scuba instructor. One is reminded, for the moment, of Maimonides' teaching that true repentance is achieved when one is faced with the same temptation and does not succumb to it a second time. Polly passes with flying colors, and Reuben is elated to the point of exhibitionism.
Yet these closing scenes only point to Reuben's foolishness in throwing his wife at temptation and then doing the same with Polly. It is Reuben who finds himself in the same situation and who commits the same sin. Actually, it is John Hamburg, the writer and director, who repeats his nasty depictions of Jewish women and whose Jewish men are not impressive, either.
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Contributing writer Elliot B. Gertel, JWR's resident media maven, is
a Conservative rabbi based in Chicago. His latest book is "Over the Top Judaism: Precedents and
Trends in the Depiction of Jewish Beliefs and
Observances in Film and Television". (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.) Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Elliot Gertel