Shallow Hal (2001) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for language and sexual content
Running Time: 113 min.
Cast: Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, Rene Kirby, Bruce McGill, Tony Robbins, Molly Shannon, Darius Rucker (cameo), Ron Darling (cameo)
Director: Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Screenplay: Sean Moynihan, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Review published November 8, 2001
I suppose the Farrelly Brothers' (There's Something About Mary, Dumb & Dumber) type of comedy will continuously be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it does provide for some memorably funny comedic moments, even if these are generally of the rude and crude variety. On the other, it gets in the way of what could otherwise have been a pretty decent film. I remember that the Farrelly-penned Outside Providence could have been a good film if not for the unnecessarily low-brow bad taste humor, and now it appears that Shallow Hal has suffered the same fate. A funny idea for a movie, but almost completely undone by its own ugly paradox. It attempts to champion the cause of fat people and those with disabilities, while continuously insulting them like no movie before ever did.
As a young boy, Hal (Jack Black, High Fidelity) had it ingrained in him to date only the youngest, hottest women. It was his father's dying wish, after all. However, things aren't very easy-going for Hal since he isn't altogether physically attractive or financially successful. One day while stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins, Hal is hypnotized into seeing women on the outside for what they are inside, i.e. however beautiful they are personality-wise will be how beautiful they appear to Hal physically. Hal begins a relationship with a very large woman named Rosemary (Paltrow, The Talented Mr. Ripley), beautiful to look at, but only through Hal's eyes.
While some may be taken in by the supposedly honorable moral statement that beauty is only skin deep and it's what inside that counts, apparently that message was never delivered to the hearts of the actual makers of this film. Shallow Hal is an often vicious attack on people with weight problems, deformities and disfigurements that unbelievably tries to pass itself off as a light and sweet romantic comedy. In the course of the film, such things as the way Rosemary breaks every piece of furniture she happens to sit in, is ridiculed for wearing any revealing piece of clothing, and for Hal being shunned by his friends because they are embarrassed to be seen with a guy who has a fatty for a girlfriend are not only all played for easy laughs, but also treat people who may weigh 300 lbs. as if they are incapable of having friends or a social life, and are about as welcome in the community as your neighborhood leper.
Even without the hypocritical stance Shallow Hal takes, the film just doesn't work very well logically. Hal not only can't see that Rosemary is a large woman, but apparently can't feel it when she is on top of him either when having sex. He also cannot sense how large her clothing is when she is in them, yet can when they are off her body or when she is holding them. The premise of the film also changes---Hal is supposed to find women attractive outside if they are beautiful inside, yet later this extends to seeing attractive women as unattractive, then men as well, and even children, yet it does not carry to all people, curiously. I am also mystified as to why it is that Hal is considered unattractive by most of the "hot" women he meets, yet any woman who is considered less-than-pretty is automatically attracted to Hal whenever he tries to ask them out on a date. One wonders if Tony Robbins didn't put a whammy on them as well.
Despite it all, Shallow Hal could have been a good film, if the makers of it weren't such a shallow and malevolent bunch themselves. Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow actually do rise above the material, and somewhere amid the muck there are some actually insightful moments that emerge. Yet, it's the Farrellys that undermine their own material, as if they felt they would let people down if they did not inject some gross-out moments, or people with impediments, for our amusement. It is their own reputation that keeps them from being real filmmakers, as if they are afraid to not lean on the crutch of bad taste for easy laughs.
It's a safe guess to assume the Farrellys would rather be the class clown than the honor student, so one wonders if they would rather be known for gross comedies than good filmmakers. If that's the case, Shallow Hal certainly does little to tarnish (or is that un-tarnish) their reputation as the bad taste kings in current comedic cinema.
©2001 Vince Leo