Directors: Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, Jason Alexander, Anthony Robbins, Joe Viterelli, Susan Ward
MPAA Rating: (for language and sexual content)
Running Time: 1:53
Release Date: 11/9/01
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Review by Mark Dujsik
Like it or not, the Farrelly brothers, who brought us the hysterically and brilliantly sophomoric Kingpin and the shockingly funny Thereís Something About Mary, have grown up. Their latest effort Shallow Hal is an interesting experiment for the brothers to test not the extremes of comedy but their own ability to be kinder, gentler. This material has the potential to be either the longest fat joke ever or a message movie about the importance of overcoming external appearance when judging beauty. For the most part, itís the latter, and the occasions that it does go for the former, itís not offensive but good-natured. Well, as good-natured as such jokes can be. But even with all these elements in place, the movie still leaves a slightly less than pleasant taste in your mouth. Itís not because of the material or the way itís handled, but because of the obvious formulaic elements of the script.
Hal (Jack Black) is a superficial person. He chooses women based solely on their appearance. When asked who he would pick if he had to choose between a woman with one breast or one with half a brain, he questions, "How big is the breast?" His friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) is no help either; he dumps an attractive woman simply because her second toe is longer than her big toe. After being turned down for a promotion, Hal gets trapped in an elevator with motivational speaker Tony Robbins who offers Hal the chance to see peopleís inner beauty. Suddenly, beautiful women donít reject Hal immediately, and he canít they actually end up getting along with him. He also canít understand why Mauricio doesnít find them attractive, and Mauricio doesnít understand why Hal is going after women that he would have avoided like the plague before. One day Hal meets Rosemary. Sheís funny, smart, and looks like, well, Gwyneth Paltrow. He canít understand why she has such low self-esteem. Of course, he doesnít see that she weighs about three-hundred pounds.
The structure of this movie is different from the Farrellysí other movies. Instead of a string of gags that come out of the story, Shallow Hal is a more dialogue-driven comedy. There are gags, most of them involving Rosemary breaking furniture, weighing down cars and boats, or taking off clothing, but the number of them is significantly lower than previous Farrelly outings. The sight gags work for the most part, even if they are a bit obvious. That the movie is funny beyond them is important, though. While most people remember Something About Mary for its five or six center piece jokes, they forget the rest of the film. Shallow Hal is almost like the parts of Something About Mary that are forgotten. Itís important to note this, because it shows that the Farrellys have the ability to maintain a dialogue-driven comedy. Most of the Farrelly trademarks are still there, including another poor attempt at humor with an individual with a physical disability. In this case, the person has spina bifida, and the scenes with his character have an awkward inappropriateness to them. Sure, his character isnít made fun of, but his appearance in the movie is simply for shock value.
The story itself suffers from too many unnecessary plot elements. An attractive neighbor is thrown in, at first to show Halís failure with women, but she later becomes the impetus for unnecessary conflict in a restaurant scene. Mauricioís conniving is important to bring Halís change of character about, but at one point, his character becomes annoying. Itís not his characteristics; itís the fact that Hal still listens to him at a time when his advice should seem inconsequential. Rosemaryís ex-boyfriend is also thrown in as a reason for Hal to become jealous, although that angle is only played for a minute or two. These elements help extend the movieís running time, and at just under two hours, Shallow Hal is a bit too long. I dislike hearing that criticism and I especially hate using it, but in this case, it could have been avoided.
Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow both give charming performances, and Black shows that he is solid leading funny-man. Paltrow also manages to hint at her characterís actual size at times, making the entire device work. By the time the message starts appearing, it seems a bit confused, but by the end, it finds the right track. Thereís even a very touching scene in a hospital involving Hal and a little girl. Shallow Hal isnít a gut-buster like Kingpin or Something About Mary, but the envelope-pushing Farrellysí experiment in toning down works for the most part, although tightening the extraneous elements would have made a more satisfying experience. Donít expect me to say this too often, but I hope the Farrellys maintain their immaturity, if only because they do it so well.
Copyright © 2001 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.