Shallow Hal

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Shallow Hal

The Farrelly Brothers formula—refined in comedies such as Kingpin and There's Something About Mary, milked by countless imitators, and cheapened by the application of the Farrelly brand name to Say It Isn't So, which they merely produced—is as simple as it is unstable. First, hit the audience with a barrage of outrageously puerile gags, each more stomach-churning than the last. Then, soften the blow with dollops of sweetness and sentimentality. At the top of their game, Peter and Bobby Farrelly can splash around in bodily fluids and still warm viewers' hearts, mainly because their childlike zeal for gross-out scatology is held in balance by their earnest, childlike ingenuousness. But when the formula goes awry, which it does in the misconceived comedy Shallow Hal, the effect is as divided against itself as Jim Carrey's Jekyll/Hyde character in the Farrellys' Me, Myself & Irene. A confused plea to look beyond appearances and see the overweight for their inner beauty, Shallow Hal lurches from sensitivity to tastelessness, spending half its time making fat jokes and the other half apologizing for them. It's doubtful that anyone could pull off such a difficult stunt, but here even the Farrellys, who normally delight in pushing the boundaries of acceptability, seem less certain of themselves, as if paralyzed by taboos that aren't worth shattering. Before its high concept kicks in, Shallow Hal gets big laughs from the romantic misadventures of Jack Black, a low-level businessman who follows his father's deathbed advice to only seek out classic beauties and never settle for "routine poontang." Miserable from a lifetime of chasing airheads and striking out, Black gets stuck in an elevator with a self-help guru who shakes him out of his mindset and allows him to see a woman's inner beauty (or ugliness) reflected on the outside. After undergoing what friend Jason Alexander calls "beer-goggle laser surgery," his love life takes a sudden turn for the better when he falls for Gwyneth Paltrow, the boss' kindhearted daughter, whom he sees as a knockout and everyone else sees as morbidly obese. Shallow Hal tries hard to have it both ways, snickering through a 12-year-old's joke-book (busted chairs, "parachute" panties, massive helpings and second helpings and other people's helpings of junk food) while treating image problems with empathy and tact. The film might have worked had the Farrellys not treated the subject so broadly, or if they had included a few jokes in the final half-hour. Shallow Hal wears its good intentions on its sleeve, but if the overweight need a boost of self-esteem, fewer movies like this one would help.

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