Review by Jack Foley
HAVING tackled everything from split personalities to sperm as hair gel, the Farrelly Brothers now go for one of the last remaining taboos - obesity and the ability for men (and in some cases, women) to look for a human being's inner beauty.
Jack Black stars as Hal, a serial under-achiever with high standards who, together with best friend Mauricio (Seinfeld's Jason Alexander), makes a point of 'going out' with only supermodels or centrefolds. When he is caught in a broken down lift with self-help guru Tony Robbins (playing himself), Hal is given the ability to see a woman's inner beauty and then meets Gwyneth Paltrow's Rosemary, an overweight Peace Corps volunteer, with whom he begins an idyllic relationship.
Hence, beautiful women with shallow personalities appear ugly to Hal, while even men with great personalities but 'no looks' seem like models. When the spell is broken, however, Hal must confront his own inner prejudices and try to come to terms with seeing Rosemary for what she really is - an outrageously overweight woman with a heart of gold with whom he has fallen in love.
While admirable in sentiment, Shallow Hal ultimately misses its mark by some way, deriving its few genuine laughs from the very type of behaviour it is supposed to be frowning upon. Hence, audiences may find themselves laughing along at the sexist antics of its two male protagonists one moment, and then confronting their own prejudices the next, as the effect of such ridicule takes its toll upon the victims.
And aside from the obvious fat gags (seats collapsing, belly flops in swimming pools, etc), the directors also manage to cram in cheap shots at disabilities such as spina bifida, making the movie something of an uncomfortable experience. When the sentiment arrives, it is also laid on thick, as the film then proceeds to ram its message down your throat.
In the lead role, Black (who shone so brightly in last year's High Fidelity), seems curiously restrained, while Paltrow is rarely stretched (appearances aside) in the role of Rosemary and the directors seldom miss the opportunity of putting the actress in a two-piece bikini or a revealing outfit, presumably in a ploy to get bums on seats.
Bobby and Peter Farrelly describe Shallow Hal as their 'most emotional film', and one which is likely to make audiences 'laugh and cry'. Well, the laughs are few and the emotion is so staged that it left me feeling cold. The movie may have its heart in the right place, but it has its head screwed on all wrong.