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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

For decades, owning a purebred dog was a sign of class. If you walked a mutt, you must be poor and if you walked a poodle, you were a Vanderbilt. During the last few years, however, I noticed a difference. Young professional people, status conscious to a fault and surely possessing sufficient leverage on their Visa cards, were going to shelters like the North Shore Animal League and the ASPCA to adopt Heinz hounds, i.e. those who have genes from 57 varieties. By the standards of people like me who have been brainwashed by the cute TV ads featuring cuddly little Lhasas and Yorkies and sleek German Shepherds and Dobies, these adoptees seemed just plain, well, plain. I'm happy to see things have changed at least with friends of animals since, after all, there's every reason to believe that 85- pound, purple, polka-dotted canine has a heart as big and needy as any of the AKC champions.

I'm not sure that too many people are ready to select their human partners so rationally. Though psychologists tell us that we wind up marrying people to whom we are physically attracted, this corporeal bliss does not last more than two years. After that, character becomes uppermost, and the guys who landed the gorgeous bimbs are as likely to wind up in divorce court as anyone else.

Along comes a movie that illustrates this concept better than just about any film that has been released in recent times. Peter and Bobby Farrelly, adored by their fans for gross-out dumbed-down fare like "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary," and "Me, Myself & Irene" have matured. This time they've created a heartwarming saga with little vulgarity and have shunned the sit-comish need for a laugh-a-minute in favor of deeper, more satisfying comedy. The Farrellys let their imaginations fly and yet come up with a premise that's believable, even more so than the one conjured by Nancy Meyers when she gives Mel Gibson the power to read women's minds and thus to get over his macho ways.

In "Shallow Hal," the title character, played winningly by Jack Black, loses one attractive girlfriend after another not because he's on the short and plump side but because the women consider him superficial. Somehow, using their intuition, they sense that he's interested only in their physical stature. And sure enough, when a professional therapist (Anthony J. Robbins as himself) asks him whether he'd rather be with a smart woman who has one breast or one with just half a brain, we're ahead of Hal by more than a moment. Hal is fortunate enough to be de- hypnotized by this tall guru, who believes that American men have been mesmerized by movies and magazines and advertising to think only physically beautiful women are desirable--that inner beauty means little to them. Once the exorcism is quickly performed on Hal by ths inspirational leader, he sees women for their inner beauty--literally. Thus when he meets the 300-pound Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow), he sees her as though she were the stunning Gwyneth Paltrow, while his best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) simply cannot believe his eyes and ears as he watches Hal speak of Rosemary in hyperbole usually reserved for movie publicists.

Entertaining throughout, "Shallow Hal" hits the high notes whenever the title character seems to be throwing a compliment as when he tells Rosemary's slim mom that he can see where her daughter got her figure--a notion taken as a putdown by her dad, played by robust Joe Viterelli with a brogue big enough to match his figure. Though "Shallow Hal" is really a one-joke movie, the Farellys hold our interest through the unusually good chemistry between Paltrow and Black and by the more obvious rapport between Black and Alexander. Each time Hal compliments Rosemary about her looks and figure, the 300- pounder gazes at him at first with a broad smile and ultimately with a disbelief that makes her think that he's putting her on. Here is a movie that's not only smart, well acted, and lovingly photographed in North Carolina by Russell Carpenter, but one which can serve an instructive and uplifting role if shown to kids on the middle-school level.

Will men see the movie and change their attitudes toward women, becoming attracted to them for their inner beauty rather than just their outward attributes? Maybe, maybe not, perhaps some day. Meanwhile, pass me the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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