Bobby and Peter Farrelly, the bawdy brothers behind tasteless comedies such as There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene, are back in the director’s chair to take another swipe at helpless targets including the obese and physically challenged. The difference is that, in Shallow Hal , audiences are supposed to be laughing with these characters, not at them. It’s a fine line.
Hal Larsen (Black) and his pal Mauricio (Alexander in George Costanza mode) are superficial jerks who will only date supermodel types. One day, Hal gets trapped in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins, who hypnotizes him so that he’ll see women’s bodies as reflections of their inner beauty. Unaware of his new gift, Hal meets Rosemary (Paltrow). She’s sweet, funny and altruistic. She’s also extremely overweight, though in his eyes she’s a real knockout. When Hal’s perception is eventually restored to normal, he must decide whether to stay with Rosemary.
The film makes great statements about a father’s impact on his daughter’s self-image, as well as how the culture at large has been “brainwashed” to embrace certain standards of beauty. Hal’s compassion for a hospitalized child is moving.
The treatment of outer vs. inner beauty, however, feels insincere. It’s as if the erotically preoccupied Farrellys don’t buy into their own homily. In the opening scene, a dying father urges his young son to date only hotties. Sadly, that’s the “moral” some viewers will internalize. Subtle hypocrisy notwithstanding, more flagrant fouls range from titillating nudity and sexual immorality, to crude humor and frequent profanity. A premise swimming with possibilities drowns in the shallow end.