THE MAG: Film Review - 'Shallow Hal'

Could it be that the Farrelly brothers have mellowed? The guys who created "Dumb & Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary" have always given their films a touch of sweetness, but they were mostly about seeing how many ways people could be grossed out. Although "Shallow Hal" still has moments that will make viewers laugh and cover their eyes at the same time, it's a surprisingly gentle, even romantic story about the value of real beauty.

Hal (Jack Black) is, indeed, incredibly shallow, judging every woman by looks alone. Since he's not exactly a perfect specimen of manhood himself, he gets shot down every time. And it never occurs to him or his best friend, Mauricio (Jason Alexander), that they might try dating women based on things like kindness and intelligence.


Jack Black, right, plays a superficial womanizer who is hypnotized into only seeing the inner beauty of people, such as with his new girlfriend (Gwyneth Paltrow), in the comedy "Shallow Hal."

When Hal gets stuck in an elevator with Tony Robbins, he receives "special" treatment from the self-help guru, who basically hypnotizes him into seeing inner beauty rather than what simply meets the eye. Before long, Hal falls for Rosemary, his boss' extremely overweight daughter � but she's such a great person, he views her as Gwyneth Paltrow.

While Hal is completely oblivious to what's been done to him, everyone else thinks he's nuts, especially Rosemary, who can't understand why he's always telling her how svelte and stunning she is. His co-workers (and her dad) think he's using her to get a promotion, and it takes the increasingly agitated Mauricio to figure out the truth and make Robbins undo the whammy. When he finally sees Rosemary's true appearance, Hal has to decide just what kind of person HE is inside.

Black routinely steals movies from better-known actors ("High Fidelity" being a recent example), and it's nice to see him get a lead role, especially one so perfectly suited to his geeky intensity. Hal is a man so programmed for superficiality, he doesn't even know what's beneath his own surface � and he's pretty delusional about that surface, too. Being around Rosemary actually makes him a better person, and you can see the shift in his attitude as the movie progresses.

Paltrow continues to show remarkable range, revealing the toughness and humor that go along with Rosemary's insecurity, and actually convincing the audience that she doesn't think she's beautiful. The rare shots of Rosemary's "true" self are apparently handled by a body double early on, with Paltrow donning a remarkably unconvincing fat suit for the movie's last segment. The fact that she can still give a performance under all that latex is further testament to her ability.

ReviewRating: ** 1/2(PG-13)

Alexander is basically playing another variation on his "Seinfeld" character, which isn't entirely a bad thing, since he's so well versed at it. The real surprise is Robbins, who can actually act, at least well enough to avoid embarrassing himself. Plus, it's a great opportunity for self-promotion, of which he does a fair amount.

The Farrellys (Bobby and Peter) direct the film, co-writing the screenplay with Sean Moynihan, and they generally seem to understand that "Shallow Hal" works better without the over-the-top gags. Of course, they can't resist tossing in a few jarring reminders of their usual output (Alexander's final scenes are just painful), and those moments diminish what is otherwise a likable, if innocuous, film.

This inability to stay away from cheap jokes nearly derails the movie's central message on several occasions, when the filmmakers play Rosemary's weight for laughs at the same time they're showing sympathy for the way our appearance-obsessed culture makes her feel about herself.

Most of the time, though, it's obvious what the Farrellys are trying to say, and they should be admired for expressing it with a certain amount of sensitivity. It's almost hard to believe these are the same guys who got laughs out of unusual "hair gel" and a terrier biting a guy in the crotch.


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