Advertised as a wild, raucous comedy much like the Farrelly brothers'
"There's Something About Mary" and "Me, Myself & Irene," "Shallow Hal"
is remarkably different in tone. Tellingly, all of the main jokes given
away in the rib-tickling trailers are featured in a montage sequence near
the halfway point. What surrounds them is a tender-hearted, feel-good
romance about not taking everything in life at face value. There are
certainly laughs to be had, but also a poignancy dwelling just underneath
the surface that gives the film unexpected weight.
Ever since agreeing to his dying father as a child not to accept anything
less than perfection, Hal (Jack Black) has been as shallow as straight
men come to the opposite sex. Spending his nights on the club circuit
with equally shallow best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), Hal is
constantly rebuffed by the only women he pays attention to, which are the
generically beautiful and thin ones. While trapped in an elevator one
day with self-help guru Anthony Robbins (playing himself), he is put
under a sort of spell that allows him to outwardly see only the inner
beauty of the people he meets. Not long after, he meets and falls in love
with Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow), a funny, sweet, painfully
insecure woman whom he sees as absolutely gorgeous, but is actually tipping
the scales at over 300lbs.
"Shallow Hal," directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is such a warm,
well-meaning film that you can't help but stand behind it every step of
the way. At the heart of the story is the romance that forms between Hal
and Rosemary. One could call it offbeat, since Rosemary is an extremely
obese lady and Hal doesn't know it, but really it isn't. Instead, it's
a genuinely sweet one between two people who couldn't be more suited for
one another. The moral of the story--that beauty is in the eye of the
beholder--is a simple, but effective, one that does not criticize or make
fun of the overweight, but embraces them as real human beings who should
be respected and looked upon as everyone else.
Jack Black (2001's "Saving Silverman") and Gwyneth Paltrow (2000's "Duets")
make for an adorable on-screen couple, whether the viewer is seeing the
real Paltrow or the 300lb. version (done with impressive makeup effects).
Black, who usually plays the sidekick in movies, may initially seem like
an unlikely romantic lead, but he is just right for the part, nicely
conveying Hal's metamorphosis from being shallow to sensitive and
Paltrow has never been so effervescent, and that's quite an achievement for
a gifted, Oscar-winning actress. She gives an alternately heartbreaking
and comical performance, as a heavy woman who has accepted her lot in
life, but remains terribly self-conscious. When Hal first remarks that
she is a beautiful person, Rosemary takes it as a cruel joke until she
realizes he's being truthful. The way that Paltrow moves and acts with
body language speak volumes about her character's low self-esteem, the
pain she has endured over the years, and her ultimate burgeoning happiness.
Although some of the jokes come off as overly broad in the context of the
rest of the film (such as when Rosemary jumps into a swimming pool,
parachuting a child into a nearby tree), they are thankfully few and far
between, and do not detract from the more honest, gently funny moments
that take up the rest of the running time. The Farrelly brothers have
taken their next natural step as filmmakers, creating the type of understated,
occasionally dramatic comedy they aren't usually known for. With Black
and Paltrow running the show and showing off their full grasps of the
roles, "Shallow Hal" is a real heartwarmer.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman