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Love’s fat chance

Shallow Hal

Directed by Bobby & Peter Farrelly

(Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli)


Shallow Hal is the greatest service to overweight people this year. Or perhaps, it’s the greatest insult. The Farrelly brothers’ comedy explores one of society’s taboos-the fat woman-by vacillating between compelling compassion for overweight people and mocking them. Mixing the two extremes muddles the film’s message, but makes for a fairly entertaining film.

Jack Black plays Hal Larsen, a 30-something businessman who-due to some advice by his dying father-only judges women by their physical attributes. This changes when, confined in a stalled elevator, self-help guru Tony Robbins hypnotizes Hal to see only the inner beauty of women, regardless of their looks.

Enter Rosemary, overweight Peace Corps volunteer. Through Jack’s condition, Rosemary’s heart of gold translates to Gwyneth Paltrow curves, aided by a padded bra and airbrushed butt. Hal’s friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander, reprising his George Costanza role on Seinfeld), who fears Rosemary’s weight like the baldness he covers with a rug-like toupee, convinces Robbins to remove what he calls Hal’s “beer goggle laser surgery.” Now able to see Rosemary’s true appearance, Hal must come to terms with his shallowness and confront Rosemary.

As Hal, Black comes across as a disappointing mellowed-out, conservative version of his past roles. The spontaneity and lack of logic that Black thrives on in High Fidelity, Saving Silverman and his band Tenacious D are absent here. Much of Shallow Hal‘s script requires Black to be earnest, but Black’s sarcasm prevents us from taking him seriously. As a result, even in the most heartfelt parts of the film, Black appears incapable of expressing sincere emotions.

On the other hand, Paltrow, as Rosemary, ideally personifies the difficulties fat women endure. The tiny Paltrow fills out the role, lumbering and speaking in a low voice even sans the fat suit. Her charm and wit allow us to laugh at Rosemary’s foibles yet sympathize with her problems. By the end of the movie, we’re able to see Rosemary as an attractive woman without focusing on her weight.

While Shallow Hal fails to remove the taboo surrounding fat women, it does have some fun with an issue few films have explored and asks us to question our criticisms of others. The next time I see a fat woman break a chair at a restaurant, I can’t guarantee I won’t snicker, but at least I’ll think twice before I do.

-Amy Hackbarth


Shallow Hal opens today in theaters nationwide.

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