Shallow Hal

One of the great human flaws (and there are several) is the inability to disassociate emotion and logic. I'm not making a value judgement regarding emotionally-induced acts, but rather noting that not considering both perspectives is allowing oneself to be ignorant. A case in point has to do with the logic of messages versus the nature of the messenger. Someone you hate may give you the best advice you've ever gotten, but I'd guess that most people would disregard the message based purely on an emotive response to the messenger.

All that is a prelude to this review of the Farrelly Brothers latest film, Shallow Hal, which contains the message that beauty is only skin deep. The problem with that message in this case is that the messengers, the Farrelly Brothers, aren't exactly renowned for their sensitivity.

Hal (Jack Black) is a great guy in almost all respects except one: as per the instructions of his dying father on a morphine high, he seeks only to enter into relationships with "physically perfect" girls. He runs into Tony Robbins (playing himself) who hypnotises him into looking for the "inner beauty" of the people he meets instead of judging by outward appearances. Extremely attractive people end up looking like old hags and physically unattractive people with good hearts end up looking like princesses. He soon ends up falling for Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), who's extremely fat, but looks like an angel to Hal.

This doesn't last since his friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), who has his own issues, misses the old shallow Hal and breaks the spell. Hal is then faced with a choice of going back to his old self or transcending it.

The film clearly marks a departure for the Farrelly brothers who brought us films like Dumb and Dumber, There's Something About Mary and Osmosis Jones. While it is funny, there's an attempt to be serious. Perhaps I'm just naive, but the earnestness with which was done was convincing to me. When Jack Black's Hal is confronted with the knowledge of the actual physical appearance of a person he thought was physically attractive, he does a great job of portraying a nice guy instead of running away. This results in a few poignant moments.

The film also does an interesting, albeit perfunctory, analysis of the notion that people generally considered to be not-so physically attractive by society are nicer since they are compensating for their looks (and vice versa). This includes an inciteful (pun intended) comment that those who are considered attractive and are nice behave that way because they undergo the "ugly duckling" syndrome. This logic is rounded up well when we come to realise that both Hal and Mauricio are the way they are because of their respective childhoods.

Finally, the reason I liked the film the most is because it indirectly makes the point that being "different" from mainstream society, particularly physically, has nothing to do with how much you (can) enjoy life. These people in the Farrelly films have a positive and healthy attitude to life, which I think is the only thing that matters.

The movie works in part because of its lead actors: Black is great as the shallow but decent fellow fixated on outward appearances. Gwyneth Paltrow, like Cameron Diaz in There's Something About Mary, takes all the jokes on the chin.

The one problem I have with the primary premise is that there are bound to be other character flaws in a person so shallow as Hal. This can be explained away given that his father's instructions were given during a morphine high.

Being an iconoclast, I am completely against judging people by outward appearances. In that context Shallow Hal does make a very relevant point in today's society where outside appearances matter so much. In the end, it is the logic behind the message that determines its validity, not the messenger.

Movie ramblings || Ram Samudrala ||