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'Shallow Hal'

Paltrow adds weight and beauty to Farrellys' 'Shallow Hal'

Friday, November 09, 2001

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Gwyneth Paltrow is a slender beauty in the eyes of Jack Black in "Shallow Hal."

'Shallow Hal'

RATING: PG-13 for language and sexual content

STARRING: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black

DIRECTORS: Bobby and Peter Farrelly

WEB SITE: www.shallowhalmovie.com



In "Broadcast News," the TV reporter played by Albert Brooks muses, "Wouldn't this be a great world if insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?"

And wouldn't this be a great world if a man obsessed with supermodels suddenly could see a woman's inner beauty? If he could look at a 300-pound Peace Corps volunteer, a person with a kind heart, sense of humor and gentle way with hospital patients, and think she's a knockout. Think she looks like Gwyneth Paltrow, instead of Gwyneth in a fat suit.

That is the premise of "Shallow Hal," a new comedy from the Farrelly Brothers who tone down the tastelessness they displayed in "Dumb & Dumber," "There's Something About Mary" and "Me, Myself & Irene." No one will ever accuse them of being sensitive souls or abandoning bathroom humor, but they deliver a nice, timeless message in "Shallow Hal" -- even as they milk for laughs the plus-size woman's penchant for breaking restaurant chairs.

"Shallow Hal" stars Jack Black, who gave a breakout performance in "High Fidelity" and is a singer with the outrageous goof-rock duo Tenacious D. Here, he plays Hal, who we first meet as a 9-year-old being given ill-conceived advice from his father, on his deathbed -- and a morphine drip.

The older man advises him not to settle for average and not to marry for love but to find a classic beauty with a "perfect can" and great, uh, breasts. Hal cannot really remember his father but his words obviously stayed with him.

The adult Hal works for a North Carolina company called JPS Funds, where colleagues counsel him that picking women based solely on looks "might not be the way to go about it." A beautiful neighbor who went out with him once no longer wants to see him and suggests he move. Oh, and he doesn't get that big promotion at work, either.

His life changes radically after self-help guru Tony Robbins, trapped for hours with Hal in an elevator, delivers a post-hypnotic suggestion: Hal will see what's inside a person, since that's where the true beauty lies. When Hal meets a large woman named Rosemary (Paltrow) he sees her as gorgeous and perfect.

But Hal's friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander, in purposely bad toupee that looks like the hair was drawn on with magic marker) hasn't been hypnotized by Robbins. He regularly refers to women in the most derogatory terms and he doesn't hide his repulsion at Rosemary's girth.

Rosemary isn't accustomed to men being nice to her and initially doubts the sincerity of Hal's attention -- just as others do. But eventually Hal may need to see Rosemary as the world does, and then what?

I saw "Shallow Hal" at a preview populated largely by teen-agers. For most of the movie, we see Rosemary as Hal does -- as real-life sylph Gwyneth. But whenever the camera would switch to the real Rosemary (either a body double or fat suit) and show plump arms, cellulite-speckled legs or extra-large panties, someone in the audience would say "Eeew!" or "Ugh" or other sounds to that effect.

People who believe making fun of fat people is one of society's last acceptable prejudices would have found confirmation.

At one point, though, when Hal saw a young character as she really is, the audience fell silent. It drove home the point of celebrating inner beauty more than anything else, and it involved Rosemary only peripherally.

If "Shallow Hal" works, it's because of the Oscar-winning Paltrow who can convincingly make you feel Rosemary's pain. The Farrelly brothers rejected casting a Tom Cruise type for the lead, instead opting for an average-looking guy. Black does a fine job, but he's not at Paltrow's level. Blame the script, which stints on his transformation; or maybe his range is just too narrow.

As for Alexander, his character is stuck in the '80s and he's stuck doing a more pathetic version of George Costanza and being the butt of some of the more juvenile jokes.

And in case you're wondering about the character of Walt, a wealthy businessman who has spina bifida and walks on his hands, he is played by an IBM executive named Rene Kirby. His parents supposedly never allowed him to use a wheelchair, walker or crutches, so he figured out a way to get around. At first, I thought the brothers were making horrible fun of Walt, but that doesn't prove to be the case.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder about the actresses cast as the unattractive versions of the hotties. This isn't like the "Seinfeld" episode where Jerry dates a woman who is pretty one moment, ugly the next. Or "The Enchanted Cottage," in which a plain woman and a disfigured veteran find each other beautiful in the cottage.

"Shrek" taught us ugly can be beautiful. "Shallow Hal" plays everything for laughs but reminds us the real beauty lurks inside. It's hard to quibble with that, or a nifty soundtrack with -- of course -- "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)."

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