Shallow Hal (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Back when I was about university age, there wasn't much in the way of edgy comedy. Most stand-ups told the predictable in-law jokes, and even the innovators like Robert Klein and George Carlin didn't have much of an instinct for the jugular.

The exception was Don Rickles. When you get right down to it, he wasn't all that inventive, but he exhibited a talent for being able to say the things that people usually think but keep to themselves, and that could be a breath of fresh air in the Ozzie and Harriet universe of 1960's mainstream entertainment. Let's face it, calling somebody a "hockey puck" isn't really funny, but Rickles would do it as tension-breaking comic relief in a formal state gathering or something like that. It was always fun to see him poke fun at sacred cows like Sinatra and Jerry Lewis.

I kinda liked Don Rickles, but he had one schtick that I despised. At the end of his shows he would make some sappy speech about how he was only kidding, and he really loved all the people he made fun of, and his life was worthwhile if he could only bring one smile to a crippled child .... blah, blah, yadda, yadda.

This film, Shallow Hal, is the Farrelly Brothers version of Rickles' sentimental conclusions. After they have spent years making fun of the crippled, the retarded, the deformed and even the normal, they are now giving us a lecture on how beautiful people are inside, if we are only willing to look past their unibrows and iron lungs.

Jack Black plays Hal, a guy who has spent his life heeding his dad's deathbed advice. Actually, his dad is the funniest thing in the movie. "Don't be satisfied with routine poontang", dad advises, "hot young tail is what it's all about." Unfortunately, this advice is no prescription for happiness, especially given the fact that Hal himself is short and dumpy and balding and ugly, and his best friend and poon-hunting buddy is ol' George Costanza, who is even shorter, dumpier, balder and uglier. These guys get shot down by more women than the number of "Park" entries in the Seoul phone book. They get turned down more often than TBS airs "Roadhouse"

NUDITY REPORT

Gwyneth Paltrow's body double shows her entire butt in a tiny thong. Gwyneth herself does an odd spread-legged upskirt when her "weight" overwhelms her chair.

Hal measures all romantic relationships by superficial yardsticks. When asked "what if you had to choose between a woman with one breast and a woman with half a brain?", his response is, "how nice is the other breast?"

One day, Hal meets late-nite infomercial king Tony Robbins (playing himself) in an elevator, the elevator gets stuck, they get to talking, and Robbins imparts some type of hypnotic suggestion which allows Hal to see people from then on as they really are inside, rather than as they appear externally. In his new weltanschauung, kind but ugly people look like hunks and supermodels, while money-grubbing beauties look like crones. Since Hal is now hitting on a steady diet of fat ugly chicks, he starts to have unprecedented success with women, and he's happy because in his own perceptions he seems to be scoring with the entire Ford Modeling Agency. Unfortunately, his buddy realizes that something is wrong, and wants his happy friend "cured" of his delusional behavior.

I'll bet you can figure out how it will end, eh?

It's a strange cross between a gross Farrelly comedy and a sappy romantic comedy. I laughed at a few things here and there, but found myself turning away in embarrassment when it turned serious, just as I did in Rickles's finales.

DVD info from Amazon.

Commentary by Farrelly brothers
11 deleted scenes
Four Featurettes:
-"HBO Special"
-"Reel Comedy TV Special"
-"Seeing Throught the Layers"
-"In the Deep End With Shallow Hal"
Music video "Wall in Your Heart" - by Shelby Lynne
Widescreen anamorphic format, 1.85:1

A few comments:

  • Jack Black as the romantic lead? Back to the height thing. Jack Black is listed at his honest height of 5'4", about five or six inches shorter than Gwyneth. Jason Alexander is listed at 5'5", but is substantially shorter than Black.
  • Jason Alexander plays George Costanza, except his name is Mauricio Wilson. To me, Alexander is not very convincing as an ethnic Costanza or an ethnic Mauricio. Did you know his real name is Jason Greenspan? His characters should all be named Irving or Seymour. And they should be gay. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
  • I don't know, I guess it's just me, but I didn't think Hal was that shallow at all. On the other hand, even I noticed that his dad was a bit superficial.
  • The guy who played Gwyneth Paltrow's dad was Joe Viterelli, who always plays Italian-American mobsters. This time, he plays an Irish immigrant with the silliest accent this side of Chief O'Hara on Batman. Faith 'n he carries a shillelagh at all times. I didn't make that up, me boyos.

The Critics Vote

  • General panel consensus: two and a half stars. Ebert 3/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, filmcritic.com 3/5.

  • General UK consensus: one and a half stars. Daily Mail 4/10, Daily Telegraph 4/10, The Guardian 3/10, The Observer 3/10, The Times 4/10, Evening Standard 2/10, The Sun 5/10, The Express 4/10, The Mirror 4/10, BBC 3/5

 

The People Vote ...

  • IMDB summary. IMDb voters score it 6.2/10, Guardian voters 6.5/10
  • with their dollars: moderately successful. Produced for $40 million, it grossed $70 million in the USA, about $8 million in the UK.

 

IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C. Average comedy, kind of a semi-successful hybrid between a sweet romantic comedy and a typical Farrelly gross-out comedy.

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