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
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
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