Hal (Black)'s father, on his deathbed under the influence of pain pills, speaks from his depths. "Hot, young, tail; that's what it's all about." He makes Hal promise to date only beautiful women, and not to fall in love. "That's the tragic mistake I made with your mother."
Hal follows that advice. Looking only for beauty, he avoids meaningful relationships, he prowls bars with pal Mauricio (Alexander). Trapped one day on an elevator with self-help guru Robbins, he's hypnotized; Robbins commands him to look inside the women he meets. Soon, Hal has extraordinary success with women, esp. with ex-Peace Corps volunteer and nurse Rosemary (Paltrow). The movie uses point-of-view shots; Rosemary actually weighs 300 pounds, but to Hal, she's slender and lovely. Rosemary thinks Hal's compliments are ironic insults, then realizes he's sincere, and thinks she's beautiful. They begin a happy romance, disturbing Hal's friends, who can't understand why he's dating a fatty.
Whether we laugh or are offended depends on our lower and higher minds. The Farrellys tickle our lower ideas while stimulating the higher. "Shallow Hal" is funny, but also surprisingly moving. Its characters test us, especially Walt (Rene Kirby), whose spina bifida immobilizes his lower body; he lopes around on all fours, and is an expert skier, horseman, bicyclist, and acrobat. He's handicapped, and his scenes at first seem in bad taste, but his zest for life let us see his charm and sense of humor, as when he explains why he uses rubber gloves. Both Farrellys work with the mentally retarded, and don't simply laugh at their targets, but usually with them, or in sympathy. Fat jokes - a chair collapses under Rosemary - have punch lines of real empathy. Hal literally sees an idealized beauty of the exterior. By showing how he sees Rosemary, the Farrellys set up a third act, in which at last he sees Rosemart as fat, and must deal with how he feels. We see Rosemary as Hal does; it's not evasive but the point.
However you view fat-slim issues, the movie is good, with funny gags: a spray-on toupee, a woman with a long second toe, a man with a tail. Paltrow is touching, and Black, in his first big role, struts confidently as if born for stardom, even though he doesn't have typical male leads' looks, and is not slim. Also, the Farrellys subtly refer to a famous Emily Dickinson poem.
Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly.
Sean Moynihan and the Farrellys
Gwenyth Paltrow, Jack Black, Tony Robbins, Jason Alexander, Rene Kirby
Women's issues; obesity; acceptance
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