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Shallow Hal

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Shallow Hal

Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black
Director: Peter Farrelly
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 113 Minutes
Release Date: November 2001
Genre: Comedy

*Also starring: Jason Alexander, Libby Langdon, Sascha Knopf, Joe Viterelli, Susan Ward, Kyle Gass

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

After their big hit three years ago with THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, the Farrelly Brothers, Bobby and Peter, have had little success in their subsequent films. ME, MYSELF & IRENE was painfully crude but generated a few nice laughs, and OSMOSIS JONES was downright awful. Their latest try, SHALLOW HAL, is highly uneven and way too long. At its best, it's quite funny, and, at its worst, which is often, it's needlessly cruel and awkward. Rather than just going for gross out gags, the brothers spend most of the movie in failed attempts at poignancy.

As we all know by now, having seen the trailers a million times -- and therefore having already heard most of the best jokes -- the plot concerns a guy named Hal (Jack Black) who sees the inner beauty in everyone, even 400-pound behemoths like Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow). The story attributes this ability of Hal's to a hypnotism/exorcism performed on him by motivational guru Tony Robbins. Hal, who once had trouble dating women, has no problem with them after he begins wooing only the fat and the ugly, who relish the attention. (Remember, he thinks they're slender and gorgeous.)

The story's message is confusing. Are we supposed to laugh at these people as some sort of freaks or feel outrage at the way society humiliates them? The script wants to have it both ways, which leads to emotional confusion. The movie constantly feels like the Farrellys are taking us to a circus sideshow, hoping we will laugh at the workers inside and then be ashamed of ourselves.

Paltrow (SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE) is convincingly touching as a chair breaker who is embarrassed over her girth, but Black (HIGH FIDELITY) can only do caustic well, so asking him to play a sweetheart proves too much of a stretch. Hal and his buddy Mauricio (Jason Alexander) are a couple of crude, stocky guys who normally go after only fashion model types. Mauricio likes to ridicule fat females by referring to them as buffalos and unattractive ones as hyenas and giraffes.

Suspending disbelief is hard but possible, as Hal ignores all of the obvious clues and statements that Rosemary is actually a supersized woman. Hal never understands why Rosemary's underwear is the size of a parachute, so he just laughs it off.

The script does produce several nice laughs. The visuals include a canoe that points straight up because of Rosemary's weight and a little boy splashed into a tree because of the water displaced by her cannonball dive. The dialog can be quite sharp. "Does she take the cake or what?" Hal asks Mauricio with rhetorical pride about Rosemary. "She takes the whole bakery!" Mauricio replies sarcastically. Another time, Tony asks Mauricio if he has heard the expression, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," speaking about the "gift" that Tony has given Hal. A perplexed Mauricio asks Tony if he has heard the song, "Who Let The Dogs Out?"

Rather than sticking to a simple but effective plot of fat vs. thin, the Farrellys feel obligated to maximize our discomfort by introducing as many human frailties as possible from spina bifida to anorexia to burn victims. We're supposed to be grossed out and feel sympathy at the same time, a near impossible feat to ask of an audience. The result is a movie that produces some good laughs between the long, uneasy scenes where the Farrellys make us feel quite uncomfortable. They should have stuck to the comedy.

SHALLOW HAL runs way too long at 1:50. It is rated PG-13 for "language and sexual content" and would be acceptable for kids around 12 and up, although it is never clear what age group this film is attempting to appeal to.

My son Jeffrey, age 12, gave it **, complaining that the jokes were repetitive, going on and on. He found part of the movie funny but, overall, thought "the plot stunk."

Copyright 2001 Steve Rhodes

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