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Shallow Hal (2001)


Twentieth Century Fox - Conundrum Entertainment, 2001 Runtime: 113 minutesRated PG-13
Starring Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, Susan Ward, Tony Robbins
Written by Sean Moynihan, Peter Farrelly, and Bobby Farrelly Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly

The Farrelly Brothers have been known to make slightly bizarre and usually funny films, but "Shallow Hal" is the first one that seems to actually have a message. It is certainly not a new message, but it is still an important one. The Farrellys stress the importance of judgment by inner beauty by constructing an ingenious situation involving a really shallow guy.

Jack Black is Hal, who was told at the age of nine by his morphine-high father from his deathbed that life is all about getting a physically perfect woman. He now hangs out in clubs trying to dance with all the hot chicks, but of course they turn cold on him all the time. His best friend is the even pickier, self-conscious Mauricio (Jason Alexander). The two of them hit clubs constantly, acting like they're doing a lot better with the ladies than they really are. One day, Shallow Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins (played by self-help guru Tony Robbins). Hal explains his mentality towards the opposite sex to Mr. Robbins. Robbins believes Hal has a good heart, but is too concerned with the female exterior. Robbins puts a "dehypnosis" on Hal, making it so he can only see the inner beauty of people.

That night, Hal and Mauricio go to a club and after a little while Hal starts dancing with three beautiful young women. At least, they look beautiful to him. When Mauricio sees them, he sees two very ugly-looking women and one very fat woman. Hal is confused when Mauricio doesn't want to join them. "I'm going for the redhead," says Hal, "you can have your pick of the other two." Mauricio responds, "Oh, so you get the hiyena while I get to choose between the hippo and the giraffe?"

We realize that Tony Robbins was serious about his little mind trick. Hal sees smart, funny, and nice women who were previously undesirable as utterly gorgeous. He also sees previously desirable women with no personality whatsoever as horribly unattractive. And so Hal now thinks that he has become the quintessential ladies man, while in reality the physically unattractive women he is hanging around are just so flattered that a member of the opposite sex would actually be interested in them that they can't keep their hands off him. Hal has the most success with Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), a nurse/Peace Corps. volunteer who at first believes that Hal is being sarcastic when he says that she is beautiful, even though that's how he sees her. Rosemary knows that she is overweight, while Hal thinks that she is nuts because she doesn't realize she's a knockout. Eventually, however, Rosemary realizes that he is serious and falls for him.

The Farrellys have a nice way of using this plot device to throw in some very funny jokes, while adding some very creative ideas. Consider a character named Walt (Rene Kirby), a lover of life who is a ladies man despite having spina bifida (this is a condition wherein the victim has a more or less useless lower half). Instead of using Walt as basis for a bunch of cruel handicap jokes, the Farrellys present him as an interesting character. He's funny because he's telling jokes, not because he's the subject of them.

Gwyneth Paltrow is one of Hollywood's most popular actresses, but she's a very busy one. Other than "Shallow Hal," Paltrow appeared in three films in 2001, including Wes Anderson's masterwork, "The Royal Tenenbaums." With all she does, it's hard to imagine how she manages to stumble onto so many good movies, while also putting forth many excellent performances.

The Farrelly brothers have done funny movies before (i.e. "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary"), but "Shallow Hal" is their most sincere work. It involves more sentiment than any other Farrelly film, but that sentiment exists to make a point: though society stresses the importance of a slim and attractive physical appearance, we should be looking on the inside, for therein lies what really counts. Especially if the inside is Gwyneth Paltrow.

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Copyright © 2002 Fishdog Fisher