Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:53 - Released 11/9/01

I saw one of those half-hour promo shows about Shallow Hal last week (you know, the ones where they show practically the whole movie?), and watched Jack Black, Gwyneth Paltrow, and several others sit there straight-faced and pretend it's a deep, thoughtful treatise on the nature of society. Well...... Although this latest film from the Farrelly brothers tries to have a social conscience, it struggles greatly to keep its head above water from a P.C. standpoint. That's not to say it doesn't have its moments. But trying to make a movie about fat people that doesn't make fun of fat people, using thin people in fat makeup instead of real fat people, is a tricky business. Of course, it doesn't help that this film is written and directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who have become internationally famous for being intentionally offensive, from their debut Dumb & Dumber through There's Something About Mary, all the way up to and including this summer's cartoon offering Osmosis Jones. Now these guys are trying to have a conscience? Right.

The story involves Hal (Black), a guy who goes out to clubs with his best friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), scoping out babes who are clearly "out of his league," and enduring numerous brush-offs by beautiful women every night of his life. When he is stranded in an elevator with famous motivational speaker Anthony Robbins (playing himself), the guru hypnotizes him into seeing only the inner beauty in people. So when he meets Rosemary Shanahan, a friendly, personable, intelligent social worker who has to weigh over 300 pounds without a stitch of clothing on, he sees a girl that looks exactly like Gwyneth Paltrow. The thing is, Hal doesn't know he's been brain-washed, so he thinks Mauricio is crazy when he refers to Rosemary as a "rhino"; meanwhile, Mauricio (and everyone else, including Rosemary and her parents) doesn't understand why Hal is so thankful to be dating such an incredible hottie. Eventually, of course, Hal's spell is broken, and he must decide whether he can still love a woman who can't fit comfortably in a phone booth.

This movie suffers from a split personality regarding its attitude toward fat/ugly people. While its overall tone and its inevitable final resolution bear the "aren't we all beautiful just the way we are" message, its use of makeup and the campy predilection of its directors often push it overboard into the well-established, offensive Farrelly territory. What's more, it's brought down by the poor performances of many supporting cast members, such as Black's girlfriend, SNL alum and comedian Laura Kightlinger, and his Tenacious D bandmate Kyle Gass, who play a married couple with no reason to be in the film other than being friends of Black's, and mob movie regular Joe Viterelli, inexplicably donning an Irish accent he apparently learned from watching Lucky Charms commercials, as Rosemary's protective father. I guess this is the only way he can manage to appear not-Italian.

Regardless of its conflicted tone and other shortcomings, the film does further illustrate not only the humorously intense charm of Jack Black, but the Oscar-winning thespian abilities of Gwyneth Paltrow, who says that in this film she tried not to differentiate stylistically between the "thin Rosemary" and the "heavy Rosemary." And indeed, even when she is appearing as herself without the padding, Paltrow is seen struggling to get out of car seats, walking slowly and tiring easily, etc., and even when endowed with pounds of foam rubber, she lets the spark of her character's likable personality shine through, obviously putting some thought into a part she could easily have dismissed as a throwaway. ***½

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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