out of five
: 113 mins
Surprisingly sweet rom-com from the Farrelly Brothers, which may disappoint fans of their resolutely low-brow earlier films – more ‘rom’ than ‘com’, but it has its moments and is worth seeing for the sight of Gywneth Paltrow in a Fat Suit.
The Farrelly Brothers’ latest film is a surprisingly sweet-natured affair, which comes as something of a surprise, given a) the all-out ‘no blow too low’ nature of their previous gross-out comedies and b) the subject matter they’ve chosen here, namely Fat People.
Indeed, even the trailer suggests that Shallow Hal will be nothing more than an endless parade of fat jokes, but in fact it is much more concerned with the romance than the comedy – so much so, in fact, that some of the gags from the trailer don’t even make it into the final film.
The plot has ‘only in the movies’ written all over it. Hal Larsen (Jack
Black in his first lead role after paying his dues as Comedy Sidekick in films like High Fidelity), traumatised by some dodgy deathbed advice from his father ("Only ever go after hot young tail and never fall in love") has grown into an extremely shallow young man who only ever dates beautiful, superficial women.
However, one day he gets stuck in a lift with self-help guru Tom Robbins (playing ‘himself’), who hypnotises him into being able to see people’s ‘inner beauty’.
Henceforth, though the rest of the world sees someone as ugly or fat, Hal sees them as physically beautiful and it isn’t long before he falls
head-over-heels in love with his boss’s 300-llb daughter Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow in a Fat Suit, except when we see her as Hal sees her, which is, um, 95 % of the time).
Shallow Hal lacks the sort of comedy set piece that distinguished There’s Something About Mary or Dumb and Dumber (think ‘zipper’, ‘hair gel’ or ‘toilet’) and falls very definitely into the box marked ‘all the best gags are in the trailer’.
However, both leads are excellent, with Paltrow in particular looking luminous and displaying neat comic timing. Black tries slightly too hard and it doesn’t always work, but he makes a credible love interest for Paltrow, despite his not-exactly-leading-man-style looks.
There’s good support, too, particularly from Jason Alexander (‘George’ from Seinfeld), as Mauricio, Hal’s womanising best friend, who gets all the best lines ("You had me at ‘Get lost’…) and gets one of the biggest laughs by revealing a physical deformity of his own.
As for Joe Viterelli, veteran of a thousand Italian gangster-type roles and here cast as Rosemary’s father, one can only assume that the Farrelly Brothers asking him to do a (frankly, rotten) Irish accent for this film was their idea of a joke.
In the end, the most important thing about the film, especially given its central ‘Fat People Have Feelings Too’ message, is that it doesn’t cop out at the end – it may be an obvious message, but it isn’t one that you see too often in Hollywood films and Shallow Hal deserves praise for that.
Worth seeing, then, although more for the sweet performances and the central relationship than the comedy.