Two brothers, Peter and Bobby Farrelly have made a very successful career directing gross-out comedies. Their movies include There's Something About Mary, Dumb And Dumber, Kingpin and Me, Myself And Irene. So it comes as no surprise that their latest offering is not only funny, but packed with paraplegic, obesity and other 'inappropriate' humour. Their trademark of skirmishing a thin line of cruelty and comedy is very evident throughout Shallow Hal.
A quick rundown of the premise, Hal (played by the every reliable funny man Jack Black) is told by his dying father (tripped out on pain-killers) that life is about 'Hot young tail' and makes Hal promise to date only beautiful women and also to beware about falling in love. "That was the tragic mistake I made with your mother" is his advice. So naturally, Hal, when all grown up, has no meaningful relationships and date only gorgeous women. Hal spends his time with his best friend Mauricio (a bewigged Jason Alexander - 'George' from TV show Seinfeld) and they both prowl the bars trying to find beautiful women every night. Hence Hal has earned a shallow reputation, thus giving us the title of the movie.
So Hal's life is a series of brief encounters, until one day he ends up getting stuck in a lift with self-help guru Tony Robbins (played by Tony Robbins, apparently a huge self-help guru in real life- but not really known here in the UK). Robbins hypnotises Hal into seeing the 'inner-beauty' of women. Hal, oblivious to the hypnotism, suddenly starts having great results with stunning women he meets. Unfortunately Mauricio, and everyone else, sees Hal dating ugly, fat and unattractive women and think he's nuts. Hal meets Rosemary, a stunning slim woman, played by Gwyneth Palthrow. Rosemary appears gorgeous to Hal because she is a kind lady, who is a nurse and ex-Peace Corps volunteer. Unfortunately she is over-weight, but not just a little, more to the tune of 300 pounds. At first Rosemary thinks that Hal's compliments are insults and is very wounded. Then she realises that he is sincere, as he really believes she is gorgeous and they start an enchanting relationship, much to the disgust of Hal's friends, who can't understand why he's dating a fat woman. It all sounds rosy for Hal, he's found a girl that he loves and she loves him, but what would happen if the hypnosis ever wears off...........
Shallow Hal is not as brutal as the Farrelly's other films, in fact it might be considered tame by some. The key joke appears to be on the overweight and disfigured but it actual is on the men who reject people based purely on their looks, men like Hal and Mauricio. Having said that the Farellys do reel off some easy jokes at Rosemary's expense, most of which are in the trailer. It is tough to base a romantic-comedy around 'Do looks matter?' without going too slushy, but the Farrellys pull it off. Only just mind. Some people might not get the humour in the fact that one of Hal's friends Walt, who has spins bifida and propels himself on all fours, always get the pretty girls, or the directors audacity to use fat girls as cannon fodder. As for the inner beauty, Hal only sees a beautiful woman, so is still basing his relationship on looks, so is it exterior or inner beauty that he is initially attracted to? Maybe that's opening too big a can of worms, this is a humble film review and not Oprah after all.
The performances are good though. Palthrow breezes through a fairly unchallenging role, having to look hurt or upset most of the time as Rosemary. We get to see her occasionally in the much talked about 'fat' suit, but after seeing other stars in 'fat' performances it really is a non-event. Jack Black is beginning to get the recognition that he deserves, as he is a very good character actor and Shallow Hal is his first real leading role, which he does well. Jason Alexander could well be playing 'George' from Seinfeld as he is typecast as a neurotic little man, but to his credit, it is a role that he does well.
Bobby and Peter Farrelly both participate in a widely unpublicised fact and that is that they are sincerely involved in work with the mentally retarded. Their films have been cited as offensive to the mentally-ill, especially the retarded brother role in There's Something About Mary, but the fact they help mentally retarded people, shows that they are not simply laughing at their targets, but with them. This is a poignant note as a lot of the 'cheap' jokes at Rosemary's expense will not sit well with obese people, but this should serves as a reminder that the punch lines are geared towards empathy rather than malice. So Shallow Hal might leave the gross-out fans of the Farrelly's wanting more, but overall a relatively 'nice' film that offers a good time at least.
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