Shallow Hal

Directors:Bobby and Peter Farrelly
Writers:Sean Moynihan, Peter and Bobby Farrelly
20th Century Fox; PG-13; 114 minutes
Cast:Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, Jason Alexander

Beneath the Farrelly brothers' tasteless humor lies something that resembles a sensitive humanism: they encourage us to laugh at the most common, most unlikely things in a sincere championing of the underdog. Mentally challenged individuals, cripples, dwarves, old people—they all get screen time in the Farrellys' world. More often than not the outsiders receive a weird, inclusive respect. Shallow Hal expands upon Bobby and Peter Farrelly's sensitive side. It's a warped love story starring Gwyneth Paltrow as a 350-pound Peace Corps volunteer. She's smart and witty and the newfound apple of Hal's eye (Jack Black). Due to his father's deathbed advice (a joke cribbed from Woody Allen's Love and Death), Hal's lame life revolves around chasing slim and attractive women. One day a TV guru (Anthony Robbins in a hilarious cameo) hypnotizes Hal to see only inner beauty.

And that's the gag that occupies Shallow Hal's two hours. He sees slender Gwyneth Paltrow, others see an obese woman who breaks chairs and provokes tidal waves in the local pool. Wait, you say: if Shallow Hal is mocking society's over reliance on popular beauty ideals, then why have golden, skinny Paltrow depict what “inner beauty” looks like? Well, let's just say that the Farrelly Brothers' comic batteries run off lopsided positive- and negative-charged contradictions. They're helped by Paltrow, who conveys the toughness and vulnerability of a woman who has accepted both her physical appearance and the fact that others will judge her solely on it. Costar Jack Black maneuvers more or less successfully within his narrow expressive range.

Shallow Hal has stirred mild controversy but is perhaps the most sweet-hearted Farrelly production to date.