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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 Edward Johnson-Ott
2 stars out of 4

It would be nice to go into a theater and be surprised, but given my profession and the amount of advance information the studios usually send, that rarely happens. I went to see "Shallow Hal" knowing its basic premise, but more importantly, I was aware of the key people involved in the production. With cult fave Jack Black, who comes off like a hybrid of John Belushi and an elf, finally given a starring role, I was sure the film would afford the acerbic comic the opportunity to really strut his stuff. Black, one-half of the riotous acoustic act Tenacious D, took a supporting role as an elitist record store clerk in "High Fidelity" and stole the show. Just think what he would do here as the leading man.

And then there were the filmmakers. "Shallow Hal" is written and directed by the Farrelly brothers, the team behind "There's Something About Mary" and Me, Myself and Irene," so it was reasonable to expect a basic love story surrounded by a barrage of stunningly tasteless gags. I prepped myself for lots of big, rude gags involving animals and humans with physical and/or mental disabilities, some of which would be funny, most of which would simply fall flat.

Imagine my surprise on seeing the actual movie. "Shallow Hal" is a sweet, wispy little romantic comedy that takes a bit of magic to make a point about physical appearances. Throughout the film, the Farrellys and Jack Black keep it toned down, so much so that after a while I found myself hoping for something to interrupt the oh-so-smooth flow of the story.

Hal (Black) is a cheerful, perpetually horny young man with the enthusiasm of a puppy dog and just about as much brains. Pursuing one incredibly beautiful woman after another, he is mystified when they systematically refute his advances and dismiss him as hopelessly shallow.

Everything changes when Hal meets motivational speaker and self-help guru Tony Robbins (playing himself, Robbins serves as a human product placement). He explains that contemporary people, especially men, have been programmed by TV, movies and magazines to look only for the beauty of the flesh. After spending time trapped in an elevator with Hal, he decides to give him a gift. Through some combination of hypnotism and the laying n of hands, he puts the whammy on the kid - from this point forward, when Hal encounters a person who is beautiful on the inside, his eyes will believe that they are also beautiful on the outside.

Soon after, Hal meets Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow), a 300+ pound woman who lives to bring happiness to others. The Tony Robbins hoodoo works and, rather than seeing her massive frame, his eyes cast her as a svelte knockout, to the amazement of Rosemary and the horror of his best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander).

For most of the film, we see Rosemary as Hal sees her, but periodically, the Farrellys present the real-world Rosemary, strapping Paltrow into a convincing fat suit. The requisite sight gags involving obesity are there, but they play as if the Farrellys' hearts were not into the pratfalls (the oddest, by the way, comes when Rosemary jumps off a diving board and creates a massive splash, with the upward rush of water occurring several feet away from where it should be).

The cast is fine. Gwyneth Paltrow carries herself with dignity throughout the film. While her character is hurt by others on a regular basis, Paltrow plays Rosemary as fatigued by the abuse, but not self-pitying. Jack Black makes his naughty boy charm work for him, but there is no showboating in his performance. He is completely straightforward here. Oddly enough, Jason Alexander, as Hal's best friend, provides the kind of manic energy in his supporting role that Black usually delivers.

I suspect you will enjoy "Shallow Hal" more than I did. Having read this review, you'll know what not to expect, which will allow you the opportunity to appreciate the chemistry between Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow and the various low key rewards of "Shallow Hal," a romantic comedy with a nice moral and a pleasant aftertaste.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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