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Shallow Hal

  • compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2001 1 Jan
Shallow Hal

from Film Forum, 11/15/01

Pixar's fun-filled family flick Monsters, Inc. again scared up the biggest numbers of the week, reigning supreme above everything else. Far behind in second place was the latest over-the-top release from the Farrelly Brothers, famous for crass and cruel comedies like There's Something About Mary, Dumb and Dumber, and Me, Myself, and Irene. Shallow Hal has driven some critics to outrage, including Joel Siegel of Good Morning America, who insists that fat jokes just aren't funny.

Shallow Hal tells the story of an empty-headed, hormone-driven bachelor (Jack Black) so obsessed with dating supermodelish ladies that he fails to comprehend the value of inner beauty. A chance encounter with positive-thinking guru Tony Robbins changes his life—Hal gains the ability to "see" the "inner beauty" of each woman. Of course, this inner beauty appears to him as a voluptuous beauty (Gwyneth Paltrow), so viewers might argue that he's still responding to physical stimulus. But the filmmakers insist otherwise.

Critics in the religious media were troubled by the movie's crass humor and what some perceived as a double standard. Still, several gave the Farrellys credit for at least trying to provide a good message.

Holly McClure (Orange County Register) writes, "The jokes about fat people aren't so much a slam on being fat as about the perceptions characters have about each other."

"This film wants to be a romantic comedy and make a statement on the way our culture lives in a surface world," says Douglas Downs (Christian Spotlight on the Movies). "It's too bad that Shallow Hal was neither entertaining or charming."

Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) writes, "Despite their intentions, that message packs a weakened punch due to the fact that most of the humor … comes at the expense of the 'un-pretty' people. It really is a pity because the premise has promise."

Bob Smithouser (Focus on the Family) notes, "The film makes great statements about a father's impact on his daughter's self-image, as well as how the culture at large has been 'brainwashed' to embrace certain standards of beauty. The treatment of outer vs. inner beauty, however, feels insincere. It's as if the erotically preoccupied Farrellys don't buy into their own homily."

Critics at the USCC call it "a good-hearted moral tale but the one-joke situation is stretched to the limit as it walks the fine line between comedy and poor taste."

Mary Draughon (Preview and Dove) objects to sexual innuendo and foul language which "overshadow any deeper messages."

Ebert reveals, "There's something about the Farrellys that isn't widely publicized—they're both sincerely involved in work with the mentally retarded. There is a sense that they're not simply laughing at their targets, but sometimes with them, or in sympathy with them. Shallow Hal has what look like fat jokes, as when a chair collapses under Rosemary, but the punchline is tilted toward empathy."

But Jeffrey Wells ( still sees a double-standard: "It's saying to us, 'Don't laugh at fat people or treat them as anything other than the good folks they are' while also bellowing like some beered-up guy in a bar, 'Whoa … look at that fat a—!'" Still, he argues that the film "offers up a lot more heart and substance than the other [Farrelly movies] put together … and is therefore fairly likeable … you can't say Hal doesn't at least try to say the right thing."

Lisa Alspector (Chicago Reader) disagrees: "If there's hypocrisy in the Farrellys' premise—teaching us to look at a thin person and imagine a fat one when for Hal the lesson works the other way—their great achievement is forcing those of us addicted to eye candy to see we have a problem."

Wilson Phillips singer Carnie Wilson, a formerly overweight superstar, told USA Today that the jokes hurt. "If you're overweight and you see this movie, you're going to be disturbed. To be honest, I was uncomfortable throughout the whole movie. 90% of the movie was making fun of fat people. It made me feel like I was a big joke, and that crushes my heart."

"I'm sorry she feels that way," argues producer/writer/director Peter Farrelly, "but she's dead wrong." And infomercial idol Tony Robbins remarks, "The Farrelly brothers care about people in a way that's really amazing, and Shallow Hal is a reflection of their values. I don't think anyone who finds herself overweight will be offended. If anything, they'll feel saluted."

REVIEWWhat About Hal?
What do you think about the movie Shallow Hal? Is it an appropriate movie to rent?by Mark MatlockCampus Life, September/October 2002