ndsu spectrum: movie review
Farrellys trade crass for class in ‘Shallow Hal’
By JOHN HANSEN
Nov. 16, 2001
A remarkable thing happens when you take (some of) the crass humor away from a Farrelly Bros. movie: it becomes a heartfelt character study with insightful social commentary. That might be a slight stretch, but nonetheless “Shallow Hal” is the best Farrelly film since their first effort, “Dumb and Dumber.”
Although they are known for one-handed bowlers, improvised hair gel and dead cows, all of the Farrellys’ films actually have a big heart buried under the sophomoric humor. But “Shallow Hal” is the first time the heart actually defines the movie. This is their least “laugh out loud” funny film, but it features an original gimmick and strong acting that will leave a smile on your face.
Hal (Jack Black) and his friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) fall squarely into the stereotype of the shallow guy, until one day Hal gets a pep talk from self-help guru Tony Robbins. Much to the consternation of his friend, Hal starts to see the “inner beauty” in everyone (for example, the inner beauty of an ugly person would be an attractive person). He falls for Rosemary, who looks like Gwyneth Paltrow to Hal but is, in reality, Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit.
“Shallow Hal” gets a fair amount of comedy from the old “two points-of-view in one scene” joke. For example, Hal compliments Rosemary’s mom with “I see where your daughter gets her figure,” which of course is construed as an insult. And they can’t resist the idea of Paltrow destroying a chair with her weight (they use this one twice).
But overall, the Farrellys show surprising restraint. Rather than carrying a single joke through the entire film (something that doomed “Me, Myself and Irene”) they try to exploit the premise from different angles. “Shallow Hal” keeps a viewer wondering what funny thing is going to happen next, rather than dreading the next scene demonstrating how colorfully Jim Carrey’s black kids can swear.
The actors are a big part of what makes “Shallow Hal” work. Black is perfect as a guy who shallow women find repulsive and deeper women find adorable. And Paltrow somehow acts like an insecure fat person even though she’s not in the fat suit for most of the film.
As they’ve always done, the Farrellys expose the weirdness of humanity while wearing their heart on their sleeve. A lot of their comedy was probably inspired by ninth grade health class (you knew they’d get a guy with spina biffida into a movie eventually), but they also have a great sense of what makes our ridiculous species tick. “Shallow Hal” may not change anyone’s culturally-ingrained views, but I bet every person in the theater paused for at least a second to reflect on their own shallowness.
Title: “Shallow Hal”
Starring: Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander
Written and directed by: Peter and Bobby Farrelly