After raising the bar for low brow comedy with the likes of Kingpin and There’s Something About Mary, the Farrelly brothers have gone to the trough one time too many and come up with a malnourished underachiever, Shallow Hal.
The Sad, Sad Story of Hal
PG-13 for language, sex
Hal is an enterprising young man with women issues. He has a very specific picture of the ideal woman etched in his brain and all of his criteria relate to physical characteristics, from top to bottom. Pardon the pun.
This image is courtesy of his father, a priest who, while on his deathbed, shared this pearl of wisdom when Hal was still an impressionable boy: Don’t marry for love. Get yourself a pretty woman; it’ll put you in good stead with God.
And so Hal went forth in search of the most perfect, most beautiful woman with whom to propagate the species.
As fate would have it, Hal (Jack Black, High Fidelity) grows up to be a corporate peon with big ideas. Fortunately for him, he gets stuck in an elevator with none other than the real-life Tony Robbins, the multi-millionaire success tape huckster. (Coincidentally enough, Mr. Robbins makes quite a good actor.)
After discussing life, the universe, and everything with Hal, Tony picks up on the disturbing set of standards Hal lives by and sees it as keeping him from true happiness. In a sort of born-again forehead-slapping moment, Tony gives Hal a freebie and purges Hal of this physical preoccupation. Going forward, Hal would only see the inner beauty (or ugly) in women instead of their outward physical appearance.
Soon enough, Hal finds himself charmed by Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow, Bounce). She’s a 300-pound whale of a woman, but Hal sees her as a shapely, sexy catch of the day.
Shallow Hal is built around a great premise and it’s the sort of idea that provides a huge canvas with which the Farrellys could create a genuine mind phuque.
Instead, they play the situation too straight and (shockingly) conservative. There were plenty of opportunities to show the inner ugly of the body beautiful, but the Farrellys instead play that card only once.
There’s also one girl who is consistently beautiful in Hal’s sight, as if to make the subtle statement that not all beautiful women are mean-spirited and cold-hearted vultures. But subtlety is not a Farrelly forte. Maybe the movie is merely confused about its message or afraid to go too far because Hal winds up passing on this girl and her unexpected advances (after all, she had previously “dumped” him after one dinner date).
Ultimately, the Farrellys seem to want to offer their usual gross-out brand of humor while also blending in authentic social commentary. The two don’t mix well.
True to form, the brothers do provide some obnoxious sight gags and questionable humor (including some jokes about spina bifida), but the humor lacks the punch of Mary and Kingpin. Simply put, Shallow Hal isn’t as funny as it shoulda, coulda been.
The Trouble with Hal
While Hal is a rather bland and, yes, shallow character, his best friend, Mauricio, is an unqualified Seinfeld reject.
Oh, wait. Maybe that’s because Mauricio is played by Jason Alexander, an actor with some serious baggage. He still can’t shake the fact that he was George Costanza in Seinfeld and much of his dialogue seems ripped straight from a lost Seinfeld episode. Instead of being funny, a lot of his shtick plays as stale.
As for Paltrow, she does manage to breathe life into Rosemary as both the slim beauty of Hal’s mind and the “real” hefty woman.
Overall, the movie does have a heart for the human condition and celebrates our diversity in that speshul Farrelly way, but it is too long for the unfocused material. Yes, it should have trimmed a few pounds before slipping into that projector.
By trying to serve both masters, the gross-out comedy and the more educated social comedy, Shallow Hal spreads itself too thin to be effective as either.