Shallow Hal

2001, Movie, PG-13, 114 mins


A well-intentioned romantic comedy from gross-out auteurs Bobby and Peter Farrelly, featuring Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit and some of the most adorable pediatric burn victims you'll ever see. Hal Larsen (Jack Black, underplaying just a little too much) is the sort of guy who can't imagine dating any woman who isn't a supermodel or a centerfold, and this despite the fact that he's something less than a looker himself. In fact, when we first meet them, Hal and his equally unprepossing buddy, Mauricio (Jason Alexander, sporting a hideous toupee), are getting blown off left and right by the local hotties at the neighborhood disco, a fate they both seem to richly deserve. Hal's attitude changes after an elevator encounter with self-help guru Tony Robbins (playing himself); Robbins puts some sort of whammy on Hal (exactly how he accomplishes this is unclear, but what the heck — it's only a movie), and suddenly Hal sees only women's inner beauty. Enter Rosemary (Paltrow): She's smart, she's funny, and she weighs 300 pounds. But when Hal looks at her, he — and the camera — registers Paltrow at her most ethereally lovely. The rest of the movie is a succession of perception-versus-reality sight gags (most of them pretty funny), plus some sentimental subplots involving Rosemary's Peace Corps pals (the Farrelly's stack the deck by making Rosemary saintly as well as sardonic) and the previously mentioned pediatric burn victims, a bunch of loveable kids whom a cynical viewer might suspect are in the film for no other reason than to massage the audience's tear ducts. Basically, this is the sort of film that's likeable enough until you start to think about it, a garden-variety male fantasy with a veneer of feminist empathy laid lightly over the top. Worse, it's also something of a cop-out, lacking the courage of its convictions: The usually fearless Farrellys are so desperate to make Hal likeable that, despite his obsession with the mix-and-matched body parts of various celebrity babes, they make him seem less deeply shallow than a bit immature. But "Somewhat Immature but Ripe for Improvement Hal" isn't as catchy a title, is it? leave a comment --Steve Simels

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