Published Nov 01, 2001After bringing their gross-out comedy to the front of Hollywood comedy and opening the floodgates to horrendous imitations, the Farrelly brothers have toned down their crude sense of humour to a great degree with their latest effort, "Shallow Hal." And with the subject matter at hand (obesity and people's perception of beauty) the pair did an admirable job of making light of the plot as well as adding sentimentality a quality that might confuse fans of the duo's past works.
A young Hal is given superficial advice from his dying father to not settle for an average-looking girl, thus making an adult Hal (Jack Black) choose his women solely based on their looks. After being trapped in an elevator together, self-help guru Tony Robbins places a spell on Hal that allows him to only see the inner-beauty of a person rather than their physical appearance. After a few encounters with bombshells that are in actuality overweight or unattractive, Hal meets Rosemary an obese woman that Hal sees the "inner beauty" as being thin and stunning, played by Gwyneth Paltrow.
One of the elements that works very well is the reality of the situation and what consequences and reactions would take place if something like this would really occur. Rosemary is skeptical and at times disgusted with Hal's constant flattery and compliments and Hal is left confused, not knowing that his vision has been distorted. Black steps up as a leading man but has to forfeit a lot of what makes him a hilarious comedian by taking on a sentimental role rather than being an insincere loudmouth. Paltrow's performance is at times moving and even though the audience is observing the beauty that Hal sees, we never really lose the fact that our perception is just as clouded. Constant reminders of her true physical appearance keep cropping up as she breaks chairs she sits in and tips cars that she rides in, not to mention that countless amount of fat jokes uttered by Hal's friends and onlookers.
The Farrelly brothers have their hearts in the right place by trying to show that you shouldn't judge someone by their appearance and that the media is to blame for clouding the public's views on what's beautiful and what's not. But the fact that everyone's "inner beauty" in this film looks like a thin, shapely model and that Rosemary has a huge appetite and destroys furniture sort of defeats the purpose. Add the fact that Shallow Hal seems more like a comedy-drama and that many movie-goers will be offended, there's probably not much hope of it joining the box office ranks of There's Something About Mary. Still, the two directors branched out into new territory and battled with political correctness and managed to create a thought-provoking film with a little bit of sentimentality.