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[Short Reviews]

SHALLOW HAL

Thereís something about this well-meaning and even engaging new film from Bobby and Peter Farrelly that doesnít quite work. The set-up is plausible: Hal Larsen (Jack Black), whom the trailers describe as "the shallowest man in the world," sees women only for their physical beauty, and though heís no Mr. America, heís almost as picky as his even shallower friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander). But then he gets stuck in an elevator with "Personal Power" guru Tony Robbins (playing himself) and is hypnotized into seeing only "inner beauty." Now heís a success with (seemingly) gorgeous women, and the most beautiful of all, Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), turns out to be his bossís daughter; that leads to dinner with the family, and after hearing Halís ideas, old man Shanahan (Joe Viterelli) invites him to make a presentation to the board and promotes him. Life canít get any better ó until Mauricio persuades Tony to undo the spell and Hal discovers heís dating a 300-pound woman.

Slick but not greasy, Jack Black gives Hal a puppy-like vulnerability, and Gwyneth Paltrow endows Rosemary with tender, melting touches of sweetness and humor. But Shallow Hal flounders when it tries to explore the deep end of human emotions. Itís still about physical beauty: mostly we see Rosemary through Halís eyes, Paltrow as she is rather than in her "fat suit," so that the film comes off as just one more male fantasy about the gorgeous girl who falls for the ordinary-looking guy. Weíre encouraged to think that conventionally unattractive people are automatically bright, witty, and caring (a former Peace Corps volunteer, Rosemary works in a hospital burn-victim pediatric ward); apart from the chairs that break under her, itís never suggested that Rosemary might have emotional issues or health problems. And why fat, except that the Farrellys think itís funny? Why not have Hal fall for an ordinary-looking woman and let her act out her "inner beauty"? In the end, of course, Hal does right by Rosemary, and we even find out why Mauricio canít get close to women, but the film remains stuck in the kiddie pool.

BY JEFFREY GANTZ

Issue Date: November 8 - 15, 2001

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