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Hal Larsen (Jack Black) is a superficial nerd whose appreciation of women starts and ends with their looks. When he meets guru Tony Robbins, with a little post hypnotic suggestion, Hal subsequently sees the inner beauty of the women he meets, which often isn’t reflected in their physical appeal. Much to the consternation of his buddy Mauricio (Jason Alexander), Hal meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), and believes her to be beauty queen material, when in fact she is an obese 300 pound Peace Corps volunteer.

Review by Louise Keller:
A fable about the perception of beauty and the beauty within, Shallow Hal offers plenty of laughs as the Farrelly Brothers throw all their usual fare of the physically challenged and politically incorrect at us. Many will find much of this film in bad taste, but what I like about it is that it really has a surprisingly sweet heart. The Farrelly Brothers tread the very fine line that divides comedy and tragedy, yet we never feel as though we are laughing at the characters. What starts as a one-joke gag develops into a heartfelt film that genuinely surprises by its poignant moments. In fact there are moments that we feel trapped in one of two different worlds – a perception warp, if you like. And while some of it is pretty silly, we don't want the magic bubble to burst for Hal. I found myself actually caring for Rosie, the butt of the hippo jokes, and for Hal (Jack Black is terrific), the poor misguided git whose conditioning had set him on a superficial path. Much of the success of the film lies in the casting, and it’s extraordinary to see the exquisite and beautiful face and form of Gwyneth Paltrow buried in the mass of an insecure, obese woman. 

Of course this is the kind of film that works beautifully on DVD because it offers the filmmakers the perfect vehicle to showcase how the effects were created. In the feature Seeing Through the Layers, we watch the transformation of Gwyneth – from pencil-thin to obese. In a multiple piece fat suit, we watch her transform, and in the first instance, when they were experimenting with make up, we couldn’t even tell that it was Gwyneth. A laser scan was made of her body and a cast of her head and arms. And it seems that she was not inhibited by the fat suit at all. The first time she looked in the mirror, she was delighted that she was beyond recognition. We also witness a casting session with a difference – fat girls come and have their photos taken, in a bid to find a girl whose (fat) legs can be used for close ups as Rosie.

In the HBO Special on Santa Monica Boulevard, actress and Baywatch babe Brooke Burns talks to ordinary people about being shallow, and I enjoyed the feature called In At the Deep End, which shows how the swimming pool scene with the diving board when Rosemary makes a splash was shot. There are seven deleted scenes with (optional) commentary by the Farrelly Brothers. The best part about these is that the commentary is totally off the cuff, and we get a feel for the laid-back humour of these two brothers whose edgy bad taste has dazzled in films such as There’s Something About Mary. There’s plenty more of the brothers in the directors’ commentary when we hear trivia non-stop. Listening to the commentary makes us feel as though we have just spent an evening with them. We meet Jack Black’s real-life girlfriend (who has a small role in the film), hear The Farrelly Brothers quip about how his hair looks as though he has had plugs, and by the time we have heard it all, we feel as though we personally know every single extra who appears. Just hearing them chat gives you an inkling of the brothers’ wave length, and allows us to appreciate their brand of humour a little further.

Shallow Hal is an escapist fantasy, and if you can suspend disbelief enough to take the trip, you may find a whole new way of looking at people. And at the risk of sounding like a soft marshmallow, let's face it, the inner self has nothing to do with the outer layer.

Published September 26, 2002

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CAST: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, Jason Alexander, Joe Viterelli, Susan Ward

DIRECTOR: Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes (feature only)

SPECIAL FEATURES: Commentary by Farrelly Brothers; HBO Special; Comedy Central’s Reel Comedy; Deleted scenes, Seeing Through the Layers; In at the deep end with Shallow Hal; Music Video – Wall in Your Heart; Theatrical Trailer

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Home Entertainment

DVD RELEASE: September 11, 2002

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