Laughs are only skin deep in 'Shallow Hal'

It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible." - Oscar Wilde

Ok, the filmmaking Farrelly Brothers aren't sages of Wilde's ilk. They generated much hilarity in "There's Something About Mary" three years ago, but their record since then - "Me, Myself & Irene" and "Osmosis Jones" - has been intermittently merry at best.

"Shallow Hal" continues the trend. Jack Black plays the title character, a self-absorbed businessman whose romantic life is guided by a single standard: All that matters is how pretty a girl is. Things change when a self-help guru puts a whammy on him, making him blind to everything but a person's inner worth. Gorgeous folks look ugly to him if they have mean-spirited souls. Conversely, people who'd never get modeling jobs are supreme beauties to Hal if they're virtuous in their minds and hearts.

Hal then meets Rosemary, the most exquisite beauty he's ever seen. He falls instantly in love and starts showing her off to his friends, not realizing they perceive her as more than a little overweight. Reality kicks in eventually, sending the movie into predictable curves: Hal regains his senses, sees Rosemary as others do, hurts her badly, decides he loves her anyway ... you can guess the rest.

Gwyneth Paltrow provides the film's novelty value, wearing a hefty fat suit for a few of Rosemary's scenes. Most of the time we see her through Hal's idealizing eyes, though - no surprise, since Hollywood won't let glittery stars like Paltrow play down their sex appeal for long.

"Shallow Hal" claims to have an uplifting message about seeing people for what they are instead of what they appear to be. If the Farrelly Brothers really meant this, they'd make a movie with an overweight heroine (or hero) all the way through, and the Hollywood star system would change overnight.

Or would it? Popular entertainment is built on narrow notions of physical attractiveness. If this status quo ever gets a serious challenge, it's likely to come from a latter-day equivalent of Oscar Wilde, not skin-deep laugh merchants like the Farrelly team.

Rated PG-13; contains sexuality and vulgar language.

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.