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Shallow Hal (Peter and Bobby Farrelly) 2001

The Farrelly brothers’ films are notorious for wandering between good and bad taste, but Shallow Hal, their latest film, is so generally good-hearted, that you question how they made something so flat-out offensive as Me, Myself, and Irene at all. Irene was a one-joke film, and that joke repeatedly rubbed the audience’s face in the schizophrenia of Jim Carey’s main character. It was a mean, ugly movie and I was worried that Shallow Hal, with its skewering of overweight people, would be more of the same. It’s not. Shallow Hal is a somewhat confused, touchy-feely message movie.

Jack Black plays Hal, a guy who goes for women that are way out of his league, since his father (a priest) told him not to settle for anything in love but “hot young tail”. The film is pretty sly to make this proclamation come from a guy who’s doped out on morphine, and that decision helps the film evade much of the meanness inherent in the film’s unapologetic stance that (gasp!) ugly people exist. When Hal is stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Richards, Richards hypnotizes Hal so he can only see people for their inner beauty (how he can determine the inner beauty of a girl on the sidewalk while driving down the street is never really discussed). The way that the film classifies self-help as a form of self-delusion is fairly crafty. After the hypnosis, Hal predictably meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), a good-hearted girl that is morbidly obese. Hal becomes infatuated with her based on her looks.

The message of the film seems a bit misguided. The suggestion that all ugly people are inherently beautiful inside seems rather stupid, as does the one that most good-looking people tend to be miserable cads. Casting Jack Black as Hal makes sense. He’s hardly a stud, and his superficiality and dismissal of any woman he deems unfit are more galling as a result. Still, he’s no great dramatic actor, so his eventual metamorphosis feels a bit false. Paltrow’s Rosemary is a much fuller character, however. She’s resigned herself to an unhappy life, and because of her low self-esteem, she takes offense when Hal tells her she’s beautiful. The film allows her to be kind, smart, and witty, and that’s something of a rarity for a female character, especially for one of her girth. Oddly, most of the time Rosemary is seen as witty, she is seen in her thin, fake version. The fat Rosemary rears her head when she is sulking or breaking furniture with her ass. For the most part, the film eschews the comedic set pieces that dominated the other Farrelly movies, and settles on humor that tends to be more dialogue and character driven. Sure, some of the gags are sight gags, but they also tend to be less funny than the contradictions in character that are on display. Despite these inconsistencies, the film seems well intentioned, and its general sense of decency carries it a long way. Perhaps, next time, the Farrelly brothers will consider thinking through their message, though.



Jeremy Heilman