Out of the shallow end
Could it be that the Farrelly brothers have mellowed? The guys who
created "Dumb & Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" have
always given their films a touch of sweetness, but they were mostly
about seeing how many ways people could be grossed out. Although
"Shallow Hal" still has moments that will make viewers laugh and
cover their eyes at the same time, it's a surprisingly gentle, even
romantic story about the value of inner beauty.
Hal (Jack Black) is, indeed, incredibly shallow, judging every woman
by looks alone. Since he's not exactly a perfect specimen of manhood
himself, he gets shot down every time. And it never occurs to him or
his best friend, Mauricio (Jason Alexander), that they might try
dating women based on things like kindness and intelligence.
When Hal gets stuck in an elevator with Tony Robbins, he receives
"special" treatment from the self-help guru, who basically hypnotizes
him into seeing inner beauty rather than what simply meets the eye.
Before long, Hal falls for Rosemary, his boss' extremely overweight
daughter - but she's such a great person, he views her as Gwyneth
While Hal is completely oblivious to what's been done to him,
everyone else thinks he's nuts, especially Rosemary, who can't
understand why he's always telling her how svelte and stunning she
is. His co-workers (and her dad) think he's using her to get a
promotion, and it takes the increasingly agitated Mauricio to figure
out the truth and make Robbins undo the whammy. When he finally sees
Rosemary's true appearance, Hal has to decide just what kind of
person HE is inside.
Black routinely steals movies from better-known actors ("High
Fidelity" being a recent example), and it's nice to see him get a
lead role, especially one so perfectly suited to his geeky intensity.
Hal is a man so programmed for superficiality, he doesn't even know
what's beneath his own surface - and he's pretty delusional about the
surface, too. Being around Rosemary actually makes him a better
person, and you can see the shift in his attitude as the movie
Paltrow continues to show remarkable range, revealing the toughness
and humor that go along with Rosemary's insecurity, and actually
convincing the audience that she doesn't think she's beautiful. The
rare shots of Rosemary's "true" self are apparently handled by a body
double early on, with Paltrow donning a remarkably unconvincing fat
suit for the movie's last segment. The fact that she can still give a
performance under all that latex is further testament to her ability.
Alexander is basically playing another variation on his "Seinfeld"
character, which isn't entirely a bad thing, since he's so well
versed at it. The real surprise is Robbins, who can actually act, at
least well enough to avoid embarrassing himself. Plus, it's a great
opportunity for self-promotion, of which he does a fair amount.
The Farrellys (Bobby and Peter) direct the film, co-writing the
screenplay with Sean Moynihan, and they generally seem to understand
that "Shallow Hal" works better without the over-the-top gags. Of
course, they can't resist tossing in a few jarring reminders of their
usual output (Alexander's final scenes are just painful), and those
moments diminish what is otherwise a likable, if innocuous, film.
This inability to stay away from cheap jokes nearly derails the
movie's central message on several occasions, when the filmmakers
play Rosemary's weight for laughs at the same time they're showing
sympathy for the way our appearance-obsessed culture makes her feel
about herself. Most of the time, though, it's obvious what the
Farrellys are trying to say, and they should be admired for
expressing it with a certain amount of sensitivity. It's almost hard
to believe these are the same guys who got laughs out of unusual
"hair gel" and a terrier biting a guy in the crotch.
"Shallow Hal" is rated PG-13.