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"SHALLOW HAL"
(2001) (Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: After being reprogrammed to see only a person's inner beauty reflected as their outward appearance, a shallow man falls for a woman, oblivious to the fact that she's extremely obese.
PLOT:
Hal Larsen (JACK BLACK) and his friend Mauricio Wilson (JASON ALEXANDER) are two average looking guys who are extremely picky when it comes to how women should look. Of course, their shallowness means they're not particularly successful with the ladies, which is why Hal's across-the-hall neighbor, Jill (SUSAN WARD), has decided to dump him after just one date.

After that and not getting the promotion he expected, Hal's a bit depressed, but finds himself unexpectedly stuck in an elevator with motivational guru Tony Robbins (TONY ROBBINS). Upon hearing Hal's idea of an ideal woman, Tony decides to deprogram, or essentially brainwash Hal into seeing only a person's inner beauty, rather than judging them on their outward appearance.

Accordingly, when Hal meets various women he believes to be knockouts who aren't traditional beauties, Mauricio can't believe that his friend has suddenly dropped his standards and expectations and tries to inform him of such. Yet, Hal simply thinks his friend is crazy, and that's especially true when Hal meets and falls for Rosemary Shanahan (GWYNETH PALTROW), an extremely obese woman whom he sees as model-like thin.

While Rosemary initially is suspicious and/or disbelieving of Hal's compliments about her appearance, his behavior soon wins over her and her parents (JOE VITERELLI & JILL FITZGERALD), a point that doesn't escape Hal's co-workers since Mr. Shanahan runs the company where they work.

As Hal climbs the corporate ladder, and he and Rosemary hang out by themselves as well as with friends such as Walt (RENE KIRBY), a man suffering from spina bifida who gets around on all fours, things seem to be going great for them. That is, until Mauricio decides he must take matters into his own hands to return Hal back to the way he used to be.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
When it comes to some women, there are things you can and cannot ask them, often depending on the situation and their mood. The three that shouldn't ever be asked, however, relate to their age, dress size and weight. If the torpedoes are damned and such queries are made anyway, the result is likely to be a stare that could turn even Medusa to stone and which is occasionally accompanied by a slap that feels like it was delivered by one.

Accordingly, if one heard that the Farrelly Brothers were directing a film featuring a rather obese woman, one would expect that they'd need flak jackets for the inevitable response from enraged ladies. After all, mixing obesity with the irreverent and gross out style material found in the brothers' films such as "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" would seem to be the recipe for disaster, at least in the minds of those sensitive to their weight.

Fortunately, for all involved, their latest film, "Shallow Hal," reflects a move toward their more sensitive and feminine side, although the barbs and bizarre humor are still to found scattered throughout the production. A comedy based on the old saying of beauty lying in the eye of the beholder, the film is a generally sweet-natured, hit or miss affair that's probably not outrageous, irreverent or gross enough for the filmmakers' fans, yet not quite sophisticated enough to please mainstream moviegoers.

In general, the film is about a shallow character who's reprogrammed/hypnotized by motivational guru Tony Robbins - playing himself, no less, in a funny if self-serving cameo - into seeing only a person's inner beauty rather than their outward appearance. Obviously designed as a fantasy, the humor is then supposed to stem from the character not realizing the woman he's with is overweight or understanding why chairs under her keep breaking, etc., all while others see the real her.

Although such results of Rosemary being obese are supposed to be the funny bits - and they do elicit some laughs - they somewhat counter and/or defeat the film's "pro fat" message. The same holds true for having the skinny and shapely Gwyneth Paltrow representing the character's inner beauty, while her in a "fat suit" and her large, real-life body double end up as the butt - literally and figuratively - of various jokes.

The filmmakers - who collaborated with novice screenwriter Sean Moynihan on the script - also haven't thought everything through all of the way. For instance, Rosemary's clothes are small when seen by Hal on skinny Gwyneth, but suddenly become humongous immediately after being taken off. One would also expect Hal to feel Rosemary's real size - especially in bed - but that never happens.

In addition, his hypnotized state allows him to see some other people for what they're really like inside, but not others including Walt played by Rene Kirby who makes his debut and has spina bifida just like his character, thus resulting in him having to get around on all fours.

Since the film is a fantasy of sorts, such problems are relatively easy to ignore or overlook. Yet, they still should have been addressed. One can only imagine the comedic potential of the protagonist being able to see and/or sense what everyone he encounters is really like, rather than simply using most of that - in regards to other characters - for some reverse, attempted poignancy at the end. Alas, the filmmakers don't take the concept and run with it as far or imaginatively as they could have.

The film has two far more prominent problems, however, with one being that it feels flat most of the time, with uneven comedic pacing and various developments seemingly being thrown in just for shock value. Perhaps it's the difficulty of straddling the fine line between outrageous humor and gentle/good-natured comedy, but the film feels off, as if it's hesitant about which path to take.

The second problem lies with the protagonist as he's drawn and portrayed by funnyman Jack Black. Although the actor's been terrific playing supporting roles in films such as "High Fidelity," he feels like any number of other comedic performers who aren't quite there yet in taking up the lead and carrying an entire film. While he has some funny moments here and there, the underdeveloped and weak script certainly don't do him any favors.

More successful is Gwyneth Paltrow ("The Royal Tennenbaums," "Shakespeare in Love") playing an overweight woman, mostly as a shapely knockout. Although she only appears in a fat suit toward the end of the film, Paltrow is far better and more entertaining in her normal form believably embodying a character who's endured a lifetime of societal reaction to her size.

Jason Alexander appears as Hal's equally shallow best friend and essentially combines elements of his characters from "Pretty Woman" and TV's "Seinfeld" to create the mildly entertaining, if familiar persona of Mauricio. Far funnier in his appearance - with bad toupee and Members Only jacket - than in what he does or says, Alexander's character goes through the sort of character arc one would expect for a film such as this. Meanwhile, Joe Viterelli ("See Spot Run," "Analyze This") - who's normally cast as a mob figure - gets some mileage out of an Irish brogue, but Susan Ward ("The In Crowd") can't do much with her "Now I'm interested in him" across-the-hall neighbor character.

Moderately amusing and entertaining despite its various flaws, the film is a hopeful sign that the filmmakers are partially "maturing" toward more high "normal" comedy, although it's not as good as one of their earlier written works, "Outside Providence." In the end, "Shallow Hall" isn't as small-minded and superficial as some might expect, but it's also not as funny or charming as some are probably hoping. As a result, the film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.




Reviewed November 3, 2001 / Posted November 9, 2001


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