Shallow Hal

Shallow Hal has problems. Not just the jerk title character, played with charmlessness to spare by the usually estimable Jack Black, but the movie itself. Here's the deal: Hal can't see inner beauty. His daddy (Bruce McGill), a reverend, no less, uttered these dying words to young Hal about what gives life meaning: "Hot young tail." Hal listened. The slightest physical imperfection disgusts Hal and his best bud, Mauricio (a shrill Jason Alexander). Hal wouldn't give a glance to 300-pound Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit), never mind her generous heart — she's a member of the Peace Corps, and her spare time goes to volunteering at a pediatric burn unit. But after TV guru Tony Robbins (as himself) hypnotizes Hal in an elevator, the shallow one sees Rosemary as the manifestation of her inner beauty, namely a babe (Gwyneth Paltrow as her skinny-blond-goddess self).

Do you see the fallacy? Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly — who wrote the script with Sean Moynihan and whose reps as masters of comic perversity (Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary) will find no argument here — have publicly claimed to be pro-fat. The brothers have declared that Shallow Hal is their most emotional film. They love Rosemary and decry the emphasis that our corrupt values place on physical perfection. But despite those claims, and Paltrow's sweet, sympathetic turn as Rosemary, the film itself is little more than a series of fat jokes: Rosemary busting her chair in restaurants, not once but twice; Rosemary gorging on cake, chili burgers and milkshakes; Rosemary diving into a pool and creating a tidal-wave surge strong enough to propel a child into a tree. There is something condescending, not to mention hypocritical, about asking an audience to laugh uproariously at the spectacle of a fat person being sneered at and dissed as "rhino" or "hippo" or "holy cow," and then to justify those laughs by saying it's society's fault and tacking on a happy ending that allegedly teaches a moral lesson. It won't wash. For the first time, the Farrellys seem to be embarrassed by their own crudeness. For the first time, they should be.

From The Archives Issue 428: August 16, 1984
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