Shallow Hal (2001)
Shallow Hal (2001)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 54 min.

Release Date: November 9th, 2001 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly Actors: Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, Bruce McGill, Susan Ward, Brooke Burns, Kyle Gass, Laura Kightlinger




he film doesn’t start with a punch or an outrageous bit of edgy slapstick; instead, it slowly establishes a motive for young Hal to be shallow. “Don’t be satisfied with routine poontang,” insists Hal’s father, hopped up on morphine while on his deathbed. “Hot young tail’s what it’s all about,” he mutters with his final breath. It’s somewhat traumatizing for the 9-year-old, but the boy doesn’t make the connection even when he’s all grown up. Hal (Jack Black) has become a highly superficial, picky, high-standards kind of guy when it comes to the opposite sex. Resultantly, he strikes out a lot, constantly chasing girls out of his league. Part of the struggle resides in the fact that he’s not that good looking himself, though he has an uncommon amount of confidence.

When Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins, the enormous motivational speaker magically (quite literally) gives Hal a unique viewpoint: from now on, he’ll see women for their inner qualities only. The brainwashing or hypnotizing results are shocking – physically unattractive females appear as supermodels, while centerfolds are hideous. Hal soon falls for the daughter of the top boss at his job at JPS Funds, Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow), who is a knockout blond in his eyes; but to everyone else, she’s an emblematic woolly mammoth. Hal’s best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), representing the realistic angle, tries to fix the predicament for his own selfish reasons – namely, to restore the clubbing wingman with whom he enjoyed partying.

Hal’s misperception leads to many mixed-up moments, involving plenty of dialogue that is unintentionally rude. He compliments Rosemary’s features, which she takes to be insultingly contrary and immature. And he interprets her to be psychotic, her mind muddled by her father’s negative feedback. When Hal meets her mother, he mentions that he can see where Rosemary got her figure from – a comment that isn’t completely realized until the audience sees both versions of the mom. Every attractive woman Hal meets has to go out of her way to behave awkwardly, supplementing the notion that physical glamor hides inner ugliness – conceptualized in something of a twist when alternate versions of each role become apparent.

The blatant message about shallowness is demonstrated in the most jarringly visual manners: Rosemary flattens a metal chair with her imagined weight (and flips over a booth at a restaurant), tips a boat up in the air, and cannonballs into a swimming pool with a monstrous splash. One of the inherent flaws with this approach is the numerous questions that arise based on whether or not Hal sees all women for what they truly are, or just the ones he would be romantically interested in (such as coworkers, neighbors, or the various people he interacted with before his change in vision). The most confusing realization is that all of the women he previously saw remain the exact same in appearance. Another befuddling factor is the difference in ages – the cruel nurse, Tanya Peeler, looks like an old woman to Hal (in the form of 74-year-old actress Nan Martin), but to Rosemary, she’s the 30-year-old “Gorgeous Tanya,” played by Sascha Knopf. As with the various iterations of the Incredible Hulk, there’s also the mystification with clothing, which seemingly expands in size when convenient. But despite the occasional disorientation, the pervasive uncomfortable feeling from Hal’s confusion distracts from the commendable nature of the themes and the effectiveness of the humor, themselves rather controversial components depending on audience interpretation (particularly with Paltrow donning a padded fat-suit).

– Mike Massie

  • 5/10