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Farrelly Brothers deliver a pretty nice love story

| Friday, Nov. 9, 2001

That's the Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter, you hear knocking.

They're locked in the bathroom, where they waltzed us in "Dumb and Dumber," "Kingpin," "There's Something About Mary" and, to a lesser degree, "Me, Myself & Irene."

Now they want out.

By late this morning when "Shallow Hal" is released, they'll learn whether the audience they cultivated for toilet jokes, flatulence and zipper horrors will accept from them a feel-good romantic comedy fable blended with an elementary parable.

The Farrellys don't eschew bad taste altogether in "Shallow Hal," but it makes only cameo appearances in what is a surprisingly sweet outing.

The film shares with "Shrek" the theme of beauty being in the eye of the beholder.

But don't look for the resident beauty right away. Top-billed Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't appear until 29 minutes in.

The Farrellys, who co-wrote the screenplay with Sean Moynihan and co-directed, spend the first half-hour introducing roommates Hal (Jack Black) and Mauricio (Jason Alexander), in an unexpectedly neat upscale apartment. Hal and Mauricio play slightly heavyish Yuppies with an infantile view of women.

Although Black and Alexander are in reality leading men who would fare better than the average bear in the dating scene, the film hints we're to read them as self-deluding Peter Pans who persist in stepping out of their league by courting super-model types.

When self-help motivator Tony Robbins (as himself) is trapped in an elevator with Hal and assesses the younger man's twisted priorities, he hypnotizes Hal, who hereafter will see people's inner beauty.

The movie's wildly inconsistent premise from that point is that the inner beauty will be manifested externally. Thus, an unfortunately heavy Rosemary, who is between Peace Corps assignments and who volunteers at a hospital ward for children with special needs, will appear to Hal (only) as a knockout (Paltrow).

Other plain women now appear much prettier to him, too. This only works one way. No one gets downgraded, and nearly all people go on looking like themselves. (What's the message there?)

Hal, who remains oblivious to his magical transformation, never quite pauses to assimilate the incongruity between what he sees and what others say.

Even Rosemary's mother, Mrs. Shanahan (Jill Fitzgerald) and father Steve (Joe Viterelli, playing with a hardy brogue), can't compute Hal's enthusiasm for their daughter. And Steve, in one of those only-in-the-movies coincidences, is Hal's boss.

"Shallow Hal" is too superficial to withstand scrutiny, and it's essentially a one-joke, one-point picture.

I think the movie would have been stronger for letting us see the real Rosemary throughout rather than Hal's Paltrow-gorgeous illusion of her.

Still, the picture has a becoming quotient of thoughtful moments involving Rosemary's poor self image and her distrust of flattery.

The Farrellys' strangest choice - one that sets audiences abuzz as they figure it out aloud - occurs when the hag Tanya Peeler (Nan Martin), left alone with Rosemary for a moment, suddenly becomes a young beauty. It occurs in a camera shot taken over Rosemary's shoulder.

So, Rosemary, too, sees the goodness in everyone reflected in their faces. But need it be literal in her case• It is in Hal's case only because he grew up unable to separate physical appearance from total worth.

Rene Kirby, who has spina bifida, acts the role of Rosemary's confidant, Walt. Wouldn't he be handsomer and perfectly formed when she's alone with him, too• (In that instance, presumably it would seem too mean-spirited to substitute another actor.)

Mauricio's tactlessness allows the Farrellys to maintain an irreverent voice in a film that is essentially about humility and the acquisition of perspective.

It's fun watching Alexander, in a closely cropped toupee, playing off Black, who isn't the sort of actor who usually gets romantic leads, much less with someone of Paltrow's caliber.

Much less in a movie that makes the observation, "The brain sees what the heart wants it to feel."

'Shallow Hal'


Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, Jason Alexander
MPAA Rating: PG-13, for language and sexual content
stars

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