Scene Stealers pays homage to the forgotten figures in pop culture that elevate the medium that they are in, whether it’s a standout in a small but memorable role, as the glue guy that holds everything together or as a subtle addition that makes something that much better (or borderline watchable). This feature honors those who may not be the stars but that doesn’t make them any less important.
The year is 2004, with the Friends finale set to air in May, Jennifer Aniston is slowly transitioning to global movie star taking the appeal she refined as Rachel Green and applying it to a little comedy called Along Came Polly. Playing the titular Polly, Aniston is the free spirit to the calculated and reserved Rueben (played by Ben Stiller). Together they produce a by the numbers romantic comedy that is passable at best, a waste of valuable time at worst but the real (only?) take away from this movie is that Phillip Seymour Hoffman could play any role and be captivating.
Now Phillip Seymour Hoffman has one of those resumes that is truly stunning. He won the best actor for playing Truman Capote in Capote, won over indie hearts in the polarizing film Sunshine and was frequently called upon by Paul Thomas Anderson to be the utility player in his many masterpieces. Maybe PTA discovered something about Hoffman that took the general public much longer to realize but Hoffman had an uncanny knack for stepping back and embracing the supporting role despite his obvious star talents.
As Sandy Lyle in Along Came Polly, Hoffman plays the best friend to Stiller’s character contributing the usual shoulder to cry on, sage advice-giving role that has become a staple of the genre. It’s not a role that demands much and Hoffman could have easily just mailed it in for an easy paycheque but instead he sells every moment he is on screen.
Personally, my favorite scene is Sandy playing basketball culminating in an inspired George Gervin (nicknamed the Ice Man) finger roll impression. Hoffman missed the basket whilst colliding face-first into the chain-link fence but it did garner one of the biggest laughs of the film.
Whether it’s physical comedy a la his incredibly exaggerated shooting form (that obviously results in brick after brick) on the court or his one-liners which he commits to with gusto (“I’m so friggin’ horny” he announces to no one in particular) Hoffman steals the show. His versatility to deliver subtle jokes in certain lines is also a testament to his wide array of talents coming to fruition in the memorable board room scene where Hoffman balances a semi-serious speech with some killer lines sprinkled in for good measure.
Though Along Came Polly will not register as anywhere near a comedy classic or rank highly among Hoffman’s illustrious filmography, the role of Sandy Lyle should be remembered for somehow managing to outshine two comedy mainstays at the height of their respective powers. The poster might feature Jennifer Aniston and Ben Stiller but the real star of Along Came Polly is Phillip Seymour Hoffman.