Go to Homepage   Shallow Hal: Unexpected Charms

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20 Century Fox Home Entertainment, ASIN B00005JKLQ

I have a confession to make. After being very vocal about dimwitted, lowbrow fare churned out by the Hollywood machine for the sole amusement of frat-boys and pre-teens I consider beneath my dignity to watch, I managed more than an indulgent smile whilst watching this Farrelly brothers venture. Though cheerfully un-PC as ever, this film delivers a gentle romance compared with its hectic predecessors There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself and Irene. Fronted by rising star Jack Black, who shone most recently in the brilliant School of Rock, this is the story of one man's uncompromising quest for perfection.

dvd: shallow hal On the final advice of his beloved father, Hal Larson sets out to win both the most perfect woman who will have him and a long-cherished promotion. Despite middling progress on both counts, Hal continues his pursuit of his ideal women undeterred, with a breathtaking level of confidence that borders on delusion, until a chance encounter in a lift with frighteningly tall self-help guru Tony Robbins changes his perception for ever. For the first time, Hall sees only the "inner beauty" in those who would otherwise fail to meet his standards. Among these, charming, funny, intelligent 300-something-pound Rosemary Shanahan, Peace Corps worker and caring volunteer at the local hospital. Through Hal's eyes, Rosemary transforms into her inner self, as played by the svelte Gwyneth Paltrow. For the most part, a good old fashioned if somewhat predictable romantic comedy follows, in which boy meets girl, boy contends with girl's terrifying parents, boy loses girl, sees the error of his ways and must grovel for forgiveness…

Although a bold concept, with some subtle digs at the self-help industry, much of the humor comes across as anything but subtle or bold. For most of the film the writers rely too heavily on a succession of repetitive slapstick sight gags and the dubious novelty of seeing a box-office hitter of Paltrow's caliber in a fat suit and coated with latex. At the same time, they waste the talents of the supporting cast (notably, Seinfeld's Jason Alexander as Hal's best friend Mauricio). All the more dubiously, the film advocates a crude, dangerously simplistic division between the attractive and unattractive. Beneath the rolls of fat, wrinkles and facial hair beats a heart of gold; while all comeliness masks vanity, cruelty and terminal stupidity.

Despite Paltrow's presence, this is Black's film, and he lends the potentially monstrous Hal a sweetness and humanity that the likes of Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller only intermittently manage. He makes his change of heart utterly convincing. Provided you don't think too hard, Shallow Hal provides an amiable, entertaining introduction to the skewed world-view of directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, complete with trademark gross-out takes on all manner of medical conditions. If nothing else, watch this film for dancing that knocks spots off Ricky Gervais's now infamous, excruciating turn in The Office any day.

Maysa M. Hattab

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