A review of  Shallow Hal” by Jeanne Aufmuth


Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG-13 for language, adult situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 45 minutes



Oh, those irreverent Farrelly Brothers, who can’t distinguish between humor and offense.  As the masters of tasteless laughs, they’re tops. But crossing that comic line into poignancy is a professional misstep.

Hollywood credo: stick with a formula that works.  In the case of the Brothers, that means poking fun at gays, the handicapped, and the obese.  Fat is fun for the Farrellys, with Gwyneth Paltrow the butt of the joke as trussed up in 300 lbs. of rubbery latex.  Jack Black is the object of her affection - the shallow Hal who only dates women who are the embodiment of feminine perfection.  Beauty’s only skin deep for Hal, which puts the kibosh on any form of serious relationship.

A chance meeting with self-help guru Tony Robbins (as himself) changes Hal’s outlook.  Robbins hypnotizes Hal into seeking the inner beauty of even the most unattractive women.  For this kinder, gentler Hal, it’s love at first sight with the obese and homely Rosemary (Paltrow), whose compassion and sense of humor translates into physical magnificence. 

There’s a lot of comic potential inherent in this scenario.  Hal is delighted with the response he’s getting from so many beautiful (from his perspective) women.  Hal’s best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) is stunned at the bow-wows Hal is attracted to, in particular Rosemary, and makes his displeasure known in heartless but humorous ways.  Rosemary coincidentally turns out to be the boss’ daughter, which naturally leads Hal’s friends to assume he’s playing her for a fool.

This is a wildly uneven farce. The Brothers have shunned their typical all-encompassing vulgarity (“Dumb and Dumber”, etc.) in favor of “deep” romantic comedy. It’s hilariously funny when the jokes are kept in the fat-thin arena, but seat-squirming uncomfortable when the Farrellys opt for sensitivity.  Burn victims and Spina Bifida sufferers are held out as shining examples of people who need to be loved for who they are - hot on the heels of a fat joke. Mixed message?

Jack Black is finally where he deserves to be, as the leading man of a big feature film.  His body language, line delivery, and goofy moon-face expressions are the stuff of the ideal comic foil.  Paltrow is ravishing when model thin, and somewhat disturbing as her sad, overweight alter-ego. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder -  just give it to me straight.