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Thursday August 18th

'Shallow' Contradicts Message for Cheap Laughs

Shallow Hal

Isn't it hilarious to see average people in relationships with morbidly obese people?

No one ever says that (out loud at least), but it seems to be the driving force behind the Farrelly brothers new comedy "Shallow Hal."

Jack Black plays the title character, who is obsessed with pursuing supermodel women who have no inner beauty. Enter Anthony Robbins -- motivational guru. Robbins gets trapped in an elevator with Hal and hypnotizes him to see the inner beauty in women no matter how unattractive their exteriors. Before he knows it, Hal is falling for every overweight and deformed woman he sees (but wouldn't you know it, no physically attractive women are beautiful on the inside -- aw shucks).

Hal ultimately falls hard for the 300-pound Rosemary, who looks like the glamourous goddess Gwyneth Paltrow to Hal. The rest of the movie is spent with Mauricio (Jason Alexander) trying to talk Hal out of his newfound love for hefty Rosemary. This sets up the film's cheesy dilemma for "Hal" -- Should you be in a relationship for love or appearance?

Movies with a moral agenda are usually hard to pull off (a la "Pay it Forward"), and "Shallow Hal" is no exception. The problem stems mainly from the way Hal's love interest is portrayed.

Rosemary is not developed beyond being nice and well, overweight, and the film doesn't really explain the fact that had Rosemary not looked like Gwyneth Paltrow to Hal, he never would have fallen for her. This love for the appearance (real or perceived) defeats the film's message.

Paltrow is rarely actually in the fat suit playing Rosemary. Her weight is alluded to in broken chairs and trampoline-sized underwear, but the audience seldom has to confront itself with the idea of Rosemary being overweight. The Farrelly brothers had a real opportunity to confront the audience's idea of beauty and "Shallow Hal," but they opt out of the challenge and instead just show the skinny Rosemary most of the time. Maybe the failings of its message could be excused if the comedy was spot on, but unfortunately it's flawed as well.

Instead of playing the typical funny guy, Black is forced into the cringe-inducing nice guy role for most of the movie. Save for the one scene where Hal shows off his dance moves, Black never gets a chance to showcase his comedic chops. Jason Alexander is also stuck in another lame post-Seinfeld role where he is relegated to uninspired musing about fecal matter and the size of his penis.

The film's directing duo, the Farrelly brothers, seem like they are trying to stretch themselves beyond their usual dick and fart jokes common in their previous movies like "Dumb & Dumber" and "There's Something About Mary." The "beauty is only skin deep" moral of "Shallow Hal" seems to be a deliberate attempt to transcend the Farrelly's earlier films, but it's really just a cheap vehicle for all of the usual toilet humor plus fat jokes.

Which is why "Shallow Hal" ultimately loses its bite in trying to make it digestible to the masses. It's hard to learn to accept people when you can't stop making fun of them.

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at artsdesk@unc.edu.

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