Think soap opera: A doctor puts his hand on Mary Larson’s (Molly Shannon in a brief cameo role) shoulder as her 9-year-old son Hal (Sasha Neulinger) looks on concerned. His dad, Reverend Larson, could go at any moment. Mary pushes the boy into his father’s hospital room for a deathbed man-to-boy talk. But don’t expect a swell of organ music — and put away your hankies. This is a Farrelly brothers (Me, Myself & Irene, There’s Something About Mary) comedy. You see, the reverend isn’t quite himself. He advises his son never to settle for “routine poontang” (like his mom). “Find yourself a perfect beauty with a nice can and big toddies,” he manages to get out as his last wish for his boy.
Twenty-odd years later, Hal (Jack Black) looks like a younger, hipper Fred Flintstone desperately seeking a hottie Wilma who fits all his dearly departed father’s discriminating specifications. It’s a hard bill to fill while he drives the babes off the dance floor with moves that seem to combine disco and modern dance with a dash of epileptic seizure. Then motivational speaker Tony Robbins (himself) lays hands on him, healing him of his shallow ways. Now Hal can only see inner beauty, and 300-pound Peace Corps and burn-unit volunteer Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow ) to him looks like, well ... Gwyneth Paltrow.
Shallow Hal doesn’t have the hilarious motley goofs of There’s Something About Mary. But it avoids the Jim Carrey overdose of Me, Myself & Irene. In common with both flicks is the Farrelly brothers’ warmhearted and equal acceptance of everybody. Like Me, Myself & Irene, it’s been criticized for making fun of a serious problem (mental health in Irene, obesity in Shallow Hal). But even though Rosemary’s weight is the big butt of many a sight gag, this is an up-to-date fable whose moral is both “beauty is only skin deep” and “don’t judge a book by its cover.”
Paltrow excellently plays Rosemary straight as a woman who’s dumped food on her inner hurt, wrapped it away in fat and has become a smart, funny and obese pearl. Maybe her pain melodramatically mutes the comedy, but it gives Shallow Hal depth.
Read "Big as life" (11/14/01), a look at movie fat girls by Serena Donadoni.Visit the official Shallow Hal Web site at www.shallowhalmovie.com.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at firstname.lastname@example.org.