Review by Kim Hollis
November 13, 2001
Much like the message it ultimately conveys, Shallow Hal is not a movie to be judged on simple appearances.
The trailers for the film were off-putting to many people, as it was frequently derided for the offensive nature of its fat jokes. Given the fact that Shallow Hal is directed and written by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, those wacky brothers who previously graced audiences with over-the-top, gross-out humor in films such as There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber and Kingpin, it is understandable that people would assume that their newest collaboration would follow a blueprint similar to those earlier releases. Honestly, anyone expecting that sort of slapstick humor is likely to be disappointed, because while Shallow Hal certainly has a number of laugh-out-loud funny moments, it is at heart a sweet romance wrapped in a message about finding the inner beauty in others.
The story is full of anti-heroes, with Hal obviously being the primary focus. Early scenes feature Hal trying to honor his father's dying wish that he date only gorgeous women. He hangs out at local bars and tries to dance with some of the most luscious creatures present, which lead some of his coworkers to point out that perhaps he's aiming a bit too far out of his league. He sees this point as utter nonsense until he meets motivational guru Tony Robbins, who gives Hal the ability to only see the inner beauty in people. People who are lovely inside look wildly attractive to him, while those who are ugly inside have a similar outward appearance to their actual personalities.
Soon after this personal epiphany, Hal falls in love with a beautiful woman named Rosemary, who is sweet, generous, philanthropic and witty. She also just happens to be the daughter of his boss's boss. Since Hal is only able to see Rosie based on her true personality, he has no idea that she is not up to his usual superficial physical standards, and his friends and her family believe he is dating her only to move up the company ladder.
Naturally the Farrelly Brothers continue their past trend of being equal-opportunity offenders, as they do utilize physical humor to emphasize Rosemary's size; however, they somehow manage to do so in such a way that the audience will adore this woman as much as Hal does. Additionally, the film features a cast of characters so lovably diverse that I found it to be a celebration of individuality.
The surest reason that Shallow Hal didn't go too far over-the-top and the most pleasant surprise of the film was Jack Black's performance as Hal. I have enjoyed Black's work in the past, particularly in High Fidelity and even in Saving Silverman, a movie I rather disliked; however, his presence was limited to small doses, which was perfect, since his exaggerated characters would have been way too much to take otherwise. In Shallow Hal, Black is unexpectedly low-key, and he is able to infuse his character with a sweetness and everyman vulnerability that makes him practically irresistible.
His chemistry with his co-star, Gwyneth Paltrow (Rosemary), is undeniable despite its implausibility. Paltrow herself is an absolute delight, and is breathtaking in all of her scenes (and I emphasize all for a reason).
Unfortunately, Jason Alexander happens to be one of the movie's missteps. His Mauricio is basically just a near retread of George Costanza, and annoyingly so. The character's motivation for his small-mindedness is ludicrous and only provides an opportunity for the Farrellys to needlessly parade some of their trademark outrageous humor. Alexander is a talented actor who deserves better than the roles he's taken on in the post-Seinfeld days, and I continue to be frustrated by his willingness to phone it in.
Another problem with the film is that it is simply too long. There comes a point in Shallow Hal where it feels as though we should be naturally headed to the ending, yet it continues on for several additional scenes. I admit that a positive aspect to the potentially superfluous scenes is the development of a couple of minor characters; nonetheless, I do believe the length is a definite detriment.
Still, I would really call these minor flaws in a generally enchanting film. The instant when Hal sees Rosemary as she truly is ranks as one of the sweetest romantic moments I have ever seen in a film of this genre. Shallow Hal is a movie about loving people for everything they have to offer, rather than simply evaluating them based on their outer beauty. It's truly a shame that people who haven't seen it are harshly judging the movie itself in the same manner it eschews.