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When searching for the perfect mate,
We aim at the exterior.
With lesser looks, we hesitate
And seek a different him or her.

We never mean to judge them wrong,
For shouldn’t passion please the eye?
And yet how often do we long
For just the person we pass by?

We’ve heard it all, from school to camp,
Of books and covers, and ’tis true.
True love needs not perfection’s stamp
To be the perfect one for you.

MPAA rating: PG-13

I can never fully predict what kind of movies my VC will like. I wouldn’t have guessed that the Farrelly brothers’ Shallow Hal would be her kind of movie, yet, while it’s not among her favorites, it holds an odd appeal for her, perhaps because of star Jack Black. I do rather understand, though. For me, it’s a lot like 1987’s Mannequin, a film that I recognize as not very good or even funny, yet remains entertaining and milks its unique concept for all it’s worth.

After some bad deathbed advice from his father, Hal Larson (Black) grows up looking only on the outside, choosing his dates solely on their hotness. When the real-life Tony Robbins takes notice of his shallow ways, he gives Hal some positive-thinking hypnosis that causes him to recognize someone’s inner beauty in their outward appearance. Ergo, ugly people with hearts of gold look gorgeous while beautiful jerks look repulsive, though it apparently doesn’t affect people he’s already met. After some unwitting encounters with “attractive” girls, Hal meets Rosemary, who looks like the thin and lovely Gwyneth Paltrow we all know but is really morbidly obese. She finds his unbiased treatment of her refreshing, yet inevitable misunderstandings and the eventual truth threaten their unconventional bond.

What Shallow Hal could use the most is more humor. It’s one of the many comedies that settles for amusing with little chance at laughing out loud, and it confirms that Jack Black is hit-and-miss with his awkward brand of bumptiousness. Jason Alexander as Hal’s buddy is arguably even more shallow than Hal and earns a few chuckles with his unrealistic standards, but much of the humor consists of fat jokes aimed at Rosemary, along with Hal’s oblivious reactions that make her fall for him in the first place. It never verges into tasteless territory, but the comedy only hits its mark half the time.

Yet Shallow Hal has its moments, particularly when it leans toward the dramatic. Hal’s “gift” really does improve his perceptions and offers Rosemary a sorely needed self-esteem boost; as naturally attractive as she is, Paltrow expresses a self-deprecating diffidence both in and out of her fat-suit prosthetics. Hal’s rose-colored vision also provides some eye-opening revelations, a couple of which touchingly hit home.

I can see how Shallow Hal could be mildly controversial but not for the obvious reason. The fat jokes may bother some (though not my VC, who herself is “weight-challenged,” as she says), but as with the much maligned Soul Man, viewers need to look beyond the surface to see the film’s message, which is encouragingly respectful of the overweight and their sensitivities. On the other hand, the film’s message has its own negative. Hal’s “gift” seems to confirm the generality that kind people with great personalities are ugly and vice versa, and the attractive ones are probably nasty deep down. The truth is that personality has little to do with looks, but the film doesn’t go that far.

In Shallow Hal, it’s the humor that’s shallow and the themes that at least try to be deep. My VC does have a soft spot for it, likely due to the ending lesson to love regardless of appearances. Though it could have been much better, its caricatured heart is in the right place.

Best line: (Hal) “You know, there are a few times in a guy’s life – and I mean two or three, tops – when he comes to a crossroads, and he’s gotta decide. If he goes one way, he can keep doing what he’s been doing and be with any woman who’ll have him. And if he goes the other way, he gets to be with only one woman, maybe, maybe for the rest of his life. Now it seems that by taking the other road, he’s missing out on a lot. But the truth is, he gets much more in return. He gets to be happy.”


Rank: Honorable Mention


© 2016 S. G. Liput
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