Gwyneth Paltrow sports one of the increasingly popular Hollywood "fat suits" in the new controversial Fox release "Shallow Hal." The Farrelly Brothers' latest film explores societal notions of beauty presented atop a comic landscape.
Jack Black plays the title character Hal, who is not so much a shallow womanizer as he is simply confused about the nature of beauty. As the film opens we see the child Hal visiting his father, who is on his dying breath in the hospital. Heavily sedated, Hal's father makes a last request to his impressionable son: that he not marry for love, which was a "nightmare" in his experiences. "Hot, young tail is what it's all about," he groans. As the heart monitor flat lines, Hal tearfully whispers that he will honor his father's request.
About 20 years later, Hal spends his free time scoping out bars for the perfect woman he feels destined to meet. The problem is that all his energy is drained by searching for her surface qualities - the right lips, the right legs, the right nose. Hal is a rising, creative entrepreneur and otherwise a nice guy. His only problem is misdirection in love - he does not know where to look to find completion.
Coincidentally, Hal becomes trapped in a stalled elevator with real-life motivational speaker Tony Robbins. Sensing Hal has a problem with relationships, Robbins decides to give him a free hypnosis. Shouting "devils be gone!" and telling Hal to picture himself truly happy in a relationship.
Robbins explains that from now on Hal will only see the inner beauty in the women he meets and consequently will be able to get any of these "beautiful" women to go out with him. Hal does not totally believe him, but soon afterward he meets Rosemary, the vixen played by Paltrow.
Though Rosemary is actually very hefty - weighing more than three hundred pounds - under Hal's spell she appears to be thin and flawless. For the majority of the film the audience sees Rosemary as Hal does, with only faceless glimpses of the "fat suit" until the end of the movie.
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Despite Rosemary's big-girl panties, the sideways glances and degrading comments that her presence generates, Hal does not realize that Rosemary isn't his perfect-bodied dream girl.
He quickly falls in love with Rosemary - not just because she looks beautiful, but because she is intelligent, charming and witty. Frolicking through an array of onscreen fat jokes - Rosemary walks by a window and the audience sees her "real" reflection - the two become a devoted couple.
But there are, of course, complications.
Fearing for Hal's sanity, his best friend Mauricio, played by Jason Alexander, confronts the hypnotist and has Hal's spell removed. Tension increases. Once Hal realizes that Rosemary is not "perfect," will he prove himself truly shallow by destroying her heart?
"Shallow Hal" is an interesting paradox of a movie. Succeeding other Farrelly Brothers' films like "There's Something About Mary," this film takes up a unique position. While past Farrelly comedies have been structured around toilet humor and overblown saga - not to be taken too seriously - "Shallow Hal" falls into a range of emotion that perhaps the filmmakers themselves could not exactly name.
The film is indeed a melodramatic comedy, and though there are hardly any of the lewd groaners found in earlier films, "Shallow Hal" is not sparse with its potentially degrading humor. But inside that framework, a delicate emotional narrative emerges regarding a conflict of cultural ideals.
There are many ways to interpret this film. Perhaps it is offensive or perhaps it is just innocent silliness.
I found it notable, however, that while most of the audience chuckled when Rosemary's restaurant bench collapsed beneath her, given the emotional importance of that scene, the directors seemed to be making a statement of solemn irony - a comment upon the laughing audience rather than the unfortunate woman onscreen.
Whichever way "Shallow Hal" is translated, it undeniably invests importance in the idea that humans should be seen for their authentic, inner beauty. Topping this notion are the ending credits, which depict homemade footage of all the behind-the-scenes production staff of the film; their real-life faces aren't the types to normally consume a Hollywood screen.
Once everyone has left the theater, however, the most paradoxical quality of the film is realized. Despite satirical ironies, messages of humanity and the value of genuine love, this is a film prepared for and by the society that it comments against. The key ingredient of the movie is the ability to show "beauty" as "beautiful."
In this society that means we have to hire a thin, flawless actress and dress her in pillows.