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
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
Copyright © 2001 Steve Rhodes