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Laramie Movie Scope:
Shallow Hal

A Farrelly Brothers comedy with a little heart

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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February 2, 2002 -- The dynamic duo of Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary") are back again with another low-brow comedy, but this time they've added some heart and insight and cut back on the gross-out humor. The result is a romantic comedy with the emphasis on comedy.

The film stars the very talented Jack Black ("High Fidelity") as shallow Hal Larson, who believes that beauty is only skin deep. This is Black's first leading role, and he handles it easily, softening his hard-edged humor enough to make him likeable. Also starring is that luminous beauty Gwyneth Paltrow of "Bounce" as the massive object of Hal's affections, Rosemary Shanahan.

Trapped in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins (appearing as himself), Hal is brainwashed by Robbins to see only the inner beauty of people and to ignore their appearances. Suddenly, Hal's miserable social life is given a huge boost as he finds numerous women to date, women who he sees as gorgeous, but others see as flawed in some way. Hal's friend, Mauricio Wilson (played by Jason Alexander of "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle"), who is even more shallow than Hal, is alarmed when he see's Hal's standards for physical perfection in women drop so drastically.

One of the funniest scenes in the movie involves a supposed private Beatles reunion concert with Eric Clapton standing in for John Lennon. Wilson is invited to the concert by his girlfriend. You won't believe what happens. There are some funny scenes involving other people's reaction to the happy couple of Hal and Rosemary. In one scene, he confronts two men who make an unkind remark about Rosemary's weight. Hal argues that Rosemary would equal all of the two men's girlfriends put together and they agree, but for different reasons. Rosemary's emotional pain is always close to the surface in the film. Paltrow's subtle performance clearly shows us the damage caused by a lifetime of insults. Her joy at finding a man who finds her attractive is leavened with a lot of caution and suspicion. It is a very bittersweet romance. Hal is oblivious to this pain through most of the film. Black does a nice job of showing us what it feels like when he finally realizes just how much pain Rosemary has suffered. One of the best scenes of the movie is serious as Hal sees a young burn victim in the children's ward of a hospital with new eyes. Hal's transformation from emotionally shallow, to a deeper understanding of others is very effective.

One of the stars of the movie is an actor with no prior acting experience, Walt (played by an IBM executive with spina bifida, Rene Kirby). Walt, a software millionaire, can't walk, but enjoys a robust life. It is clear he does not see himself as handicapped at all. His zest for life seems to rub off on everyone. The Farrelly brothers handle Walt, and the fat joke scenes very, very carefully. In the wrong hands, there are so many ways this film could have become tasteless, but those traps are avoided. Instead of anything goes humor, we get sharp insight. We live in a society where appearances are everything. How can you not like a movie where the heroes are Peace Corps volunteers?

Veteran actor Joe Viterelli of "Analyze This," does a nice job in a supporting role as Steve Shanahan, Rosemary's father. Viterelli, who usually plays mobsters, sports a good Irish accent. This is not the Farrelly brothers best work, but is better than "Dumb or Dumber" or "Me Myself and Irene" and some of their other, lesser efforts. There are some flat spots in the script, especially the opening sequence with Hal's dying father. This scene seemed to me to be almost totally unnecessary. Other than than a few similar lapses, this is a pretty good film. The story idea came from Sean Moynihan, a friend of the Farrelly's who they encouraged to become a screenwriter because they thought his correspondence to them was funny. They were right. He is funny. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2002 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)