Shallow Hal (2001) Movie Review

There is one big fallacy in “Shallow Hal”, the new film by the Farrelly brothers, that I believe escaped the sibling filmmakers as they were writing the script. It’s this: the film purports to argue, “it’s what’s inside a person that shows his/her true beauty”, but the film, about a man name Hal (Jack Black) who gets hypnotized and sees all physically unattractive women (i.e. overweight or malformed in some way) to be physically attractive (think supermodels). The fallacy enters the picture here: according to the filmmaker, “real beauty” is being skinny and pretty, i.e. co-star Gwyneth Paltrow. Do you get it? If it’s “what’s inside that matters”, why does the “inner beauty” version of Paltrow’s character, Rosemary, look like, well, Gwyneth Paltrow? Who says “beauty” automatically translates as “thin”?

Aside from its errant attempt at something higher, “Shallow Hal” is a mild comedy at best, a laughable drama at worst. It’s also the first movie by the Farrelly brothers that fails to elicit any laugh out loud moments, which comes as something of a disappointment from the people that brought us “Kingpin” and “There’s Something About Mary.” “Shallow Hal” is worth a chuckle here and there, but there are long stretches that just consist of Jack Black’s Hal looking mystified at the reaction of those around him toward his girlfriend Rosemary.

After being hypnotized by motivational speaker Tony Robbins (playing himself) while the two are trapped in an elevator, Hal falls for the very overweight Rosemary, believing she’s, well, Gwyneth Paltrow. (Paltrow plays Rosemary in and out of a fat suit depending on who’s POV we’re supposed to be seeing Rosemary through.) Despite the fact that Hal is not all that attractive himself (he’s slightly overweight), he still insists on going for women who are physically way out of his league. Robbins makes Hal think that he’s dating Gwyneth Paltrow when he’s actually dating Rosie O’Donnell. Get it?

For those who haven’t guessed already, the trailers for “Shallow Hal” shows absolutely all of the funny moments that the film has to offer. I kid you not. The bit with Paltrow leaps into the swimming pool and drenches half of the city, and the one where Paltrow undresses and tosses her parachute of a panty to Hal while in bed, were featured prominently in the trailers and are, unfortunately, absolutely everything funny the film has to offer. The rest are good for a few chuckles, and sometimes not even that.

But “Shallow Hal” is not as bad as you would think. Jack Black’s loser of a character, and his loser of a best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), are chuckle-worthy mostly because their attempts to land supermodels without a snowball’s chance in hell is just pathetic. As per their usual want, the Farrelly brothers throw a couple of sight gags at us in the guise of slightly off-kilter characters. There’s Rosemary’s father, who has an unexplained Irish accent and sounds like a leprechaun. There’s a friend of Hal and Mauricio that is missing most of his legs, and thus has to hop around on his hands, but still manages to be a hit with the ladies.

“Shallow Hal” ends the way you expect it to, with the shallow Hal digging his way out of his shallowness, and finally realizing that people are more than their weight and that you should love the person on the inside and blah blah blah. But the film undermines its attempt at a moral PC lesson with its sometimes mean spirited poke at overweight people for comedy’s sake. How could you be saying that fat people are just people too, and at the same time point at them and laugh at their expense?

“Shallow Hal” falls grossly short of whatever goals its filmmakers had intended. This is a case of a movie that works great as a pitch (“Shallow guy gets hypnotized and sees fat women as skinny!”), but it’s a one-joke pony, and one jokes have a bad way of running out of steam very, very quick.

Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly (director) / Sean Moynihan, Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly (screenplay)
CAST: Gwyneth Paltrow …. Rosie Shanahan
Jack Black …. Hal Larson
Jason Alexander …. Mauricio Wilson
Bruce McGill …. Reverend Larson
Anthony Robbins …. Tony Robbins

Buy Shallow Hal on DVD