Shallow Hal (2001)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Romantic Comedy, Fantasy Comedy, Comedy of Errors  |   Release Date - Nov 9, 2001 (USA)  |   Run Time - 114 min.  |   Countries - Germany, United States  |   MPAA Rating - PG13
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Review by Derek Armstrong

Shallow Hal caused an immediate furor about its alleged characterization of fat people as the grotesque butts of sophomoric jokes. Of course, most of those complaining hadn't seen the source of their outrage. Peter and Bobby Farrelly's sixth film is about much more than the questionable sight gags that punctuate the trailer. For the first time in their scatological careers, the directors have made a film that actually provokes thought, delivering a message about social perception that's far more idealized than wicked, and not fixated on weight alone. There's natural discomfort in the fact that some punch lines revolve around seeing what Hal's beauties really look like, but the directors twist this brilliantly to help the audience reexamine its own ingrained shallowness. With the notable exception of cruelly exaggerating Rosemary's appetite, they rarely flog the joke, instead rendering the characters with painstaking dignity. The set-up also allows the actresses, from anonymous babes all the way up to a touchingly sweet Gwyneth Paltrow, a rare opportunity to demonstrate their ability to play characters with low self-esteem. Jack Black is perfect as Hal, a generally decent guy whose major flaw is shared by most of the audience -- that his cultural upbringing has taught him to judge the book by its cover. The "freaks" the brothers have always employed as part of their tasteless humor finally have thematic relevance, including characters with spina bifida and a vestigial tail. Shallow Hal may not move at the laugh-a-minute pace Farrelly fans expect, nor will it win any humanitarian awards. But the directors deserve credit for repudiating their usual hijinks in favor of ambitious, if somewhat naïve, social commentary, which just might open minds among viewers.