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IN SHORT: Sweeter than the side-splitter we expected. [Rated PG-13 for Language and Sexual Content.]
Everyone who expected us to say something like "a ton of fun" go stand in a corner.
If "beauty is only skin deep" then the lovely Rosemary, to be kind, sports acres and acres of it. Skin, that is, stretched over a frame that carries well over 300 pounds. To "shallow" Hal Larsen, titular star of the latest comedy from the warped imaginations of Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly (with co-writer Sean Moynihan), Rosemary's beauty exists independently of a body that triggers an 0.5 reading on the local Richter Scale whenever she goes out for a jog.
Which is the kind of joke we'd expect in a comedy by the Farrelly Brothers. After building a career out of milking jokes from every possible bodily function and body part it was time, in our opinion, for the Farrelly Brothers to put up or shut up. At first glance, which was all we had when we wrote the above paragraph prior to our screening of Shallow Hal, the idea for their latest movie seemed to be the most tasteless concoction they'd come up with to date. We dreaded the thought of one fat joke after another, even with a Farrelly spin. The brothers have turned tasteless into funny before, but this was pushing it.
We don' t know if it was intentional but the first gag that Farrelly and Co. let loose goes splat like a bug on a windshield. In it, the dying (and morphined out of his skull) Reverend Larsen gives to his porky nine year old son Hal the words of advice that he will live by for the rest of his life. We'll leave the sickening splat for you to endure while the film flash forwards twenty years or so. In some disco the paunchy Hal (Jack Black) is dancing up a storm, all by himself. He's a free soul, just having dumped the luscious Jill (Susan Ward) after a lengthy date. You read that right. One date.
Across the room, his best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) flames out in even more spectacular fashion. And both men are put to shame by Walt (Rene Kirby), who walks on all fours due to spina bifida and has just made a zillion bucks by selling his net company to Microsoft. Walt gets the babes. Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help motivation expert Tony Robbins (aka Anthony J. Robbins) and, thanks to proprietary motivational magic, has his eyes opened to the inner beauty that lies within all people.
The first beauty that Hal sees belongs to Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow, click for StarTalk) who is, to be nice, well on her way to the quarter ton mark. We only get glimpses of Her Fatness. Rosemary herself is well aware of her weight and Paltrow delivers all the anger and bitterness that comes with the history of being the brunt of the joke. Rosie doesn't believe that anyone could be honestly interested in her. Hal's friends think he is out of his mind and, get this, the luscious Jill (who did the real dumping of our "hero") realizes that Hal may not be as shallow as she thought.
The biggest surprise in Shallow Hal is that there's not a fat joke in the bunch. Occasionally a piece of furniture will collapse under Ms. Paltrow's character but, in context, none of 'em are "traditional" fat jokes and none of 'em are abusive. If anything, the Farrelly's should have put a different surname on this work because it isn't a "traditional" Farrelly comedy at all. It's a sweet, romantic film that takes a while to find its bearings. More accurately, perhaps, it took our audience a while to get that this romantic comedy was a helluva lot more intelligent than what floored us in Dumb and Dumber or There's Something About Mary.
Each joke carries two punchlines. The visual gag of seeing the "inner beauty" that Hal sees extends far beyond Paltrow's character, in ways we didn't see coming. That's equally impressive because, once you get into the gist of the gag, it isn't hard to figure out every step of the story that is to come.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Nine Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Shallow Hal, he would have paid . . .
just about dateflick level. Frankly, if you walk in to Shallow Hal expecting that ton of gross fat jokes, you'll walk out disappointed. We walked in dreading those jokes, as we wrote. We walked out pleasantly surprised
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