Directed by: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Written by:Sean Moynihan, Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, Rene Kirby
Released: January 1, 2002
Grade: A-

Written and directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Shallow Hal is an insightfully comedic look at the correlation between inner beauty and outer beauty. When it comes to women, Hal Larsen (Black) and friend Mauricio Wilson (Alexander) have very standards. They’re attracted solely on the basis of good looks and their “shallowness” sees them with few dates and even fewer relationships.

Stuck in a lift with mind guru Tony Robbins (as himself), Hal unknowingly is “dehypnotised” into seeing people’s inner rather than outer beauty. Soon after, Hal meets Rosemary Shanahan (Paltrow), a gorgeous blonde with a slim figure and great personality. Expecting a brush off, Rosemary is equally smitten but for some reason is uncomfortable with her appearance.

For Hal, things couldn’t be more perfect and this blissful romance has made him oblivious to events around him. Rosemary is actually a very large woman and despite the saying that “beauty is the eye of the beholder”, no one can understand why the usually shallow Hal is interested in a “whale” like Rosemary. A motive is soon provided when it’s revealed that Rosemary is the boss’s daughter and everyone presumes that Hal is using her to ascend the corporate ladder (especially since he just missed his recent promotion). Hal’s problems are only beginning…

Ordinarily, I would expect light-hearted toilet humour from the Farrelly brothers (Dumb And Dumber, There’s Something About Mary) but Shallow Hal has surprising depth with much to say about current relationship culture. When meeting someone, looks are everything. In today’s world, appearance has taken on a greater importance as one compares themselves with supermodels and Hollywood stars. This week’s Who Weekly flashes the headline “Half Their Size!” and lists those with “incredible shrinking bodies”.  With two out of every three marriages ending in divorce, imagine the benefits that could be reaped by seeing the ever-elusive inner beauty.

Aside from the messages, Shallow Hal makes a very good comedy - there’s plenty of fresh material to keep you laughing. A lot of good jokes were made regarding the perception of beauty and only the Farrelly brothers could have pulled this off. Both Black and Paltrow are ideally suited to their characters although Gwyneth does look a little weird in her “fat” body suit. Of the remaining cast, I was left disappointed by Joe Viterelli, who as Rosemary’s father had an annoying accent, and Rene Kirby who as Walt, is the film’s token freak character.

The concept, whilst interestingly explored in Shallow Hal, does have limits. For example, Hal still sees many people the same as they were before he was hypnotised. This doesn’t seem to make sense. Does this mean their inner beauty is the same as their outer beauty? Further, there is debate over the techniques used to show inner beauty. By using thin people to show inner beauty and fat people to show outer beauty, aren’t we just saying that fat equals ugly?

A nice way to start the year, Shallow Hal shows that comedy can sometimes be the most effective method in getting a method across.  My shallow criticisms are insignificant when looking at the bigger, deeper picture.