Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
1 hr. 54 min.
Year of Release:
November 9, 2001
The Farrelly Brothers (“There’s Something About Mary” and “Me, Myself, and Irene”) continue their quest to be “equal-opportunity” offenders. This time they are exploring the superficial world of beauty in “Shallow Hal”.
Our story opens with Hal Larson (Jack Black in his first leading role) called to the bedside of his dying father (a minister) who passes on some shallow advice: 1) don’t ever settle for routine sex (using more vulgar language), 2) don’t ever settle for being average, and 3) find yourself a classic beauty (again with vulgar wording, emphasizing female body proportions). As viewers we are supposed to believe that this encounter shaped Hal’s thinking and his judgment. This, the first of many inconsistencies in a story filled with holes.
Hal reaches mid-life and skirt-chases one woman after another (all beautiful). A few are interested, but they quickly see through his superficial thinking. He is aided in this quest by his bud, Mauricio (Jason Alexander), a toupee-wearing loser who is just as shallow and, in one scene, proves it by dumping a seemingly beautiful woman because she has a disfigurement in one of her toes.
But Hal’s life is about to change. He gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Anthony Robbins (the best part of the film in a tremendous job of just being himself). He de-programs Hal and helps him to see, from now on, the inner-beauty in women and men. But here lies another inconsistency. Hal’s vision in this area is selective—even his best friend is still short and bald and his boss is still fat.
Hal’s view takes the predictable turn and he falls in love with a 300lb. Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow, who does a convincing and entertaining job in this role). But the producers over-do the issue of obesity, throwing in a plethora of fat jokes. We are led to believe that Hal’s hypnosis includes Rosemary breaking chairs in restaurants. We are also told that Rosemary’s father (who just happens to be Hal’s boss) is to blame for her low self-esteem. The film continues down a path that includes premarital sex, profanity, frequent discussions about sex, alcohol consumption, and other matters of bad taste.
There are some positive moments in “Shallow Hal.” Rosemary donates her time to children in the hospital, works with the Peace Corps, and gives her leftovers to homeless people. One of Hal’s friends has Spina Bifida and he has moments of inspiring courage. Unfortunately, these moments are eclipsed by the mountain of offensive material, the majority of which comes from Jason Alexander’s character. He is repugnant to the very end. Some of his advice includes: “Sometimes you have to [have sex with a fat woman, said in more vulgar terms] in order to feel better about yourself”. Yes, tasteless and crass he is.
We all grew up with the clichés “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or “beauty is only skin deep”. We have watched the glamorous, rich, and famous get married—only to hear the demise of their empty choices. This film wants to be a romantic comedy and make a statement on the way our culture lives in a surface world. Christian music artist, Michael W. Smith, says it best in his song “Picture Perfect”: you don’t have to be picture perfect to be in my world. it’s too bad that “Shallow Hal” was neither entertaining or charming. In fact, the packed audience at the premier showing in our area hardly laughed at all!
Even hypnotism won’t lead most Christians to finding any inner beauty in this adults-only film. Instead of buying the wrong message of self-indulgence-cures-obesity taught in this film, read Eat More and Weigh Less by Dr. Dean Ornish (endorsed by the American Heart Association). Diet fads come and go, but I have found his healthy principals workable.