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Dustin Putman

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Shallow Hal (2001)
3 Stars

Directed by Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly
Cast: Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, Rene Kirby, Susan Ward, Anthony Robbins, Brooke Burns, Kyle Gass, Laura Kightlinger, Sascha Knopf, Libby Langdon, Molly Shannon.
2001 – 113 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for profanity and sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 10, 2001.

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 understanding.

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.

©2001 by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman