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Shallow Hal

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Jack Black invites Tony Robbins to his next Tenacious D concert.

© 2001, Fox
All Rights Reserved

After years of grossing out moviegoers with their bad taste comedies, Peter and Bobby Farrelly find themselves at an artistic chasm. "Shallow Hal" (IMDb listing) is their bridge to a new land where 5-minute diarrhea scenes don't exist and the American public doesn't go nuts for a little hair gel behind the ears. An often tender and bluntly delivered picture, the Farrellys have finally made their first baby steps to a new level of filmmaking. But don't fret fans, once a character reveals his vestigial tail or uses a handful of Vaseline to suggest an eye infection, you know right there and then that the Farrellys haven't dropped all of their pranks.

Hal (Jack Black) is the most ego-driven, superficial man Boston has ever seen. Only choosing ladies for their looks, Hal has trouble maintaining relationships. When one day he gets stuck in an elevator with motivational guru Tony Robbins, the gigantic healer hypnotizes Hal into only seeing the inner-beauty of any woman he meets. Refreshed, and with a newfound ability to score dates, Hal meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), a 300-pound sweetheart whom Hal can only see as a complete knockout. Hal promptly asks Rosemary out and soon falls in love with her, much to the chagrin of his best pal and fellow pig, Mauricio (Jason Alexander). Mauricio (who can see the real Rosemary) doesn't like Hal's attachment to Rosemary, and tries to thwart their romance. This forces Hal to confront his own shallowness, and decide if his feelings for Rosemary are for real.

I've always been a huge champion of Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Crafting some of the funniest films around ("Dumb And Dumber," "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary" and "Me, Myself And Irene"), I guess it was time for a change for the filmmakers. That's not to say they go out without cramming some of the biggest laughs of the year in "Shallow Hal." For every dramatic moment, there are two comedic ones that rival anything else they've done up until this point. Yet, this time out they are much more careful to not overcompensate for the lack of a decent story as they've done before. Farrelly Brothers films always have a nice, tight structure to them allowing for both comedy and a tear. It's just that this time out, the jokes aren't as acidic and the story seems to gel just fine.

The Farrellys can also be counted on to take on actors and subjects that almost all of Hollywood runs screaming away from. As with the use of the mentally challenged in supporting roles in "Mary," "Hal" has a major supporting character who is afflicted with spina bifida, which forces him to walk on all fours. Never the butt of jokes, he is instead showcased as a constant prankster and ladies' man. The weight issue was another fear of mine, as the ads for "Hal" scream mean-spiritedness. The Farrellys poke just a little on the subject of overweight people, yet the film never becomes ugly. Every character is treated as a human being, which I feel has always been the Farrelly gift. They love to make fun, but they always have one arm around you when they do it.

Of course, the simplistic script wouldn't go anywhere without the great casting the Farrellys employ. Jack Black, a supporting role staple, finally moves up to romantic lead status, and it couldn't come at a better time. A gifted, hilarious performer ("High Fidelity," the folk/metal band Tenacious D) with a cherubic face, Black brings his manic energy to "Shallow Hal" and single-handedly holds the film afloat with his crack comic timing and bizarre sense of humor. Black is magical in "Hal," and works a miracle by making the often unbearable Jason Alexander actually appear funny.

Gwyenth Paltrow has the easier job in providing the heart of the picture. I was positively taken with Rosemary, as she is such a vulnerable and honest character, but more importantly, Paltrow plays her with just the right amount of compassion and charm. You never feel bad for Rosemary because Paltrow refuses to. The chemistry between Black and Paltrow remains effective, and frankly, they make a fun couple.

It's only in the final reel that the Farrellys reveal Paltrow in her fat suit, the effect being downright horrifying. Using a body double for most of the film, when you do see Paltrow's face in the suit... it just isn't right. Her tiny face smashed into a painfully obvious fat suit ruins the carefully arranged effect that the Farrellys were trying to achieve by showing Rosemary's true size in only brief glimpses.

While "Shallow Hal" isn't the giant change of pace for the Farrellys that some might've hoped, it does signal a newfound desire for the duo to graduate to more sincere pictures. "Shallow Hal" is a treat as it is the first time a picture from the Farrelly has worked both comedically and dramatically. A bold step indeed, but one that is gut-bustingly hilarious along the way.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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