Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Shallow Hal

I said yesterday that Jack Black is often better as a supporting character than the main. That is not meant to be a sweeping generalization. He is up and down as the lead character, but when he is up, he flies high. Case in point is Shallow Hal, a film with some big laughs, a few awkward ones, and a strange poignancy at times.

Black plays Hal Larson, who, along with his buddy Mauricio (Jason Alexander), spends all his spare time acting like an obnoxious jerk while trying to pick up gorgeous women out of his league. Both of them are superficial and--hypocritically, if you ask me--contemptuous towards unattractive people. By accident, Hal becomes trapped in an elevator with self-help scam artist (Hush. He is.) Tony Robbins. Robbins hypnotizes Hal to see the inner beauty of people in hopes he can find true love.

The plan works. Hal begins hanging around with fat, ugly girls, whom only he sees as gorgeous. Mauricio cannot understand the change in his friend. Hal begins dating his boss’ daughter, Rosemary She is morbidly obese, but he sees her as Gweneth Paltrow. The two build a meaningful relationship together until Maurice, who wants the old Hal back, gets Robbins to break the hypnotic spell. Hal no longer recognizes rosemary. It breaks her heart to think she has been dumped.

Hal has a change of heart as he begins to recognize the outward appearance of all the beautiful people he has met under the hypnosis. He decides he loves Rosemary anyway and reconciles with her before she leaves the country on a peace Corps assignment with her old, evidently less desirable than Hal, boyfriend.

If Shallow Hal has a problem, it is that it often takes the easy way out, either for laughs or tears. The predictable fat jokes are abundant. I expect and thought quite a few were hilarious. The tugging at the heart strings was a bit much. You have to buy into the idea that every fat, unattractive, and crippled person has a heart of gold while anyone who is not like that looks normal. Looking normal in Shallow Hal means being an unsavory type on some level. That is hard to swallow. People are people, with all virtues and flaws intact. The most blatant attempt to choke the audience up is when Hal visits Rosemary as she volunteers at the hospital working with kids. He does not realize--and neither do we--until the hypnotic spell is gone the kids are horribly scarred children in the burn unit. I confess it was a poignant revelation, but they were trying too hard there. Maybe I just do not like being manipulated emotionally.

The Farrelly brothers for absurd, often offensive comedies with enough heart thrown in to usually keep them from collapsing into childish farce. They do not always succeed. Shallow Hal has its flaws, but it perhaps surprisingly hits quite a few marks. It is worth watching if you do not mind not taking a romantic comedy very seriously. Shallow Hal is not a full fledged chick flick.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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