The Farrelly Brothers are lucky to have convinced Gwyneth Paltrow to join their latest semi-crude effort, "Shallow Hal". I will explain further later in the review. The film stars Jack Black ("High Fidelity") as Hal, a man who was told by his father before he passed away that he should not seek out love, but should simply seek hot women. Years later, he has met some of these women, but never really gotten to know any of them and found that most of them don't even want anything to do with him. Hal's friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) is doing even worse. Still, he goes about his ways, eventually told by his coworkers that maybe he should actually look on the inside rather than focusing on the outside.
One day, Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins, who hypnotizes Hal into seeing the inner beauty of the women that he meets. He doesn't believe that anything's actually changed, but he then meets Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow). Rosemary is overweight in reality, but he sees...well, he sees Gwyneth Paltrow.
Speaking of Paltrow, it's her impressive and soulful performance that makes "Shallow Hal" work as well as it does. Paltrow dialed down the glamour and was often heartbreaking in "Bounce". In "Shallow Hal", she often looks prettier than she usually does (in scenes where Hal sees her as how we've seen Paltrow) and yet, she really brings out the sadness, shyness and sweetness of Rosemary. The film doesn't exactly get across the message to find people's inner beauty very well, with a few broken pieces of furniture and the mean-spirited jokes by the Alexander character, but Paltrow's performance is very touching and really, the heart of the movie.
Black continues to be a terrific comedic performer, but he gives a really enjoyable performance as a guy who finally gets to realize a beautiful personality. Alexander, on the other hand, is intensely annoying. The character doesn't exist to offer much more than overweight jokes and the actor simply is offering an obnoxious version of his "Seinfeld" character with more ego and less humor.
"Shallow Hal" may not offer consistent laughs, but there's a sweetness to much of it as well as some genuinely touching moments. Even so, editing out a few minutes would have helped out the pace. As with almost all of their other films, "Shallow Hal" nearly runs 2 hours. While the Farrellys have occasionally used this excess time to introduce a few more character moments then this genre usually offers, "Shallow Hal" could have gotten to the point faster and been a bit less repetitive with some of the jokes - or even found new ways to get a laugh that weren't targeted at Paltrow's character.
I suppose the main fault with the film is that it doesn't really know quite what it wants to be - there's a bit of the director's usual humor sneaking in at the edges (the film was marketed as if it was another Farrelly gross-out comedy), but there's also some sadness and emotion at the center. While the film attempts to balance out the two, it doesn't really work as well as I think the filmmakers hoped. Still, I ended up feeling rather positively about the film, especially Paltrow's fine performance. I doubt the film would have worked as well as it does without her.
VIDEO: "Shallow Hal" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by 20th Century Fox. While not a transfer without a couple of minor faults, it's overall a very nice edition. The Farrelly Brothers really didn't start off knowing much about the technical details of filmmaking, but they have worked with cinematographer Mark Irwin, who has aided the brothers in bringing a semi-glossy look to their comedies. Russell Carpenter ("Negotiator") is the cinematographer this time around and brings an equal shine to the look of "Hal". Sharpness and detail are generally very good throughout the presentation - a little hint of softness is apparent now and then, but the film consistently remained crisp.
The presentation showed a few concerns that, while not much on their own, added up to the overall image quality being a bit less than I expected. Mild edge enhancement was seen on a few occasions, but no pixelation was spotted. The print looked largely crisp and clean, although there were a few little specks here and there.
Colors were well-rendered, looking crisp and vivid, with no smearing. Flesh tones looked accurate and black level solid. A very nice transfer, but a little short of greatness.
SOUND: "Shallow Hal" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. While some comedies have been able to make creative use of sound, the Farrelly Brothers continue to offer fairly basic soundtracks that are largely front-heavy. For "Shallow Hal", the surrounds aren't used very much, but at least they are employed a bit more than usual for the film's enjoyable soundtrack. Audio quality was very enjoyable, as the songs sounded crisp and full, while dialogue was clear. Maybe future comedies from the directors will add a bit more ambience to the soundtrack.
MENUS: Fun animated main menu and cartoony, easily navigated sub-menus.
Commentary: This is another roll call, er...I mean, commentary, from directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly. As much as I've enjoyed some of their movies ("Kingpin" is a modern comedy classic), their commentary tracks have been a fair amount of information and an awful lot of naming who their friends are that have ended up in the movie. Their track for "Shallow Hal" is no different - they do point out a fair amount of details about the production and occasionally bring up some fun stories, but they often point out the cousin of the brother of their friend who ended up with a bit part. They seem like down-to-earth people who like to crowd their sets with friends and family, but discussing them doesn't really make for the best commentary.
Documentaries: The DVD offers two documentaries: one is a Comedy Central "making of", while the other is an HBO special. The HBO special is hosted by star Brooke Burns, who spends more time talking to people on the street about what it means to be shallow than discussing the film itself. While a few interesting bits of information came up in the interviews, there's really not a whole lot of interesting material offered. The Comedy Central "Reel Comedy" special is a bit better, still not offering much in the way of actual information, but providing a stage for Black, who starts riffing in the interview and coming up with some funny bits. Paltrow, Robbins and the Farrelly Brothers also are interviewed.
Deleted Scenes: 11 deleted scenes are offered with optional commentary from The Farrelly Brothers, who do a pretty good job explaining why scenes were cut. Mainly, these scenes are either alternate or extended, but occasionally have new material.
In At The Deep End: This short featurette offers interviews from the film's stunt coordinator, Black and, Paltrow's double Ivy and Paltrow, who all discuss the film's pool sequence.
Seeing Through The Layers: This short documentary provides discussion of how the fat suits and other make-up effects were done for the film as well as considerations of exactly the look. There's also some test footage of the make-up effects and interviews with Paltrow, Black, the Farrellys, Paltrow and Paltrow's body double, Ivy.
Also: Music Video for Shelby Lynne's "Wall In Your Heart"; music promo spot and trailers for "Shallow Hal", "Minority Report", "Unfaithful" and "The Banger Sisters". There's also a promo for the Farrelly Brothers Fox DVD releases.
Final Thoughts: I didn't really feel strongly either way about "Shallow Hal", although I ended up with a positive opinion of the film. Most of the performances are very good, the film looks great, but it's overlong and although usually sweet, for a comedy, there really aren't that many laughs. Fox's DVD provides very nice audio/video quality as well as a fairly solid helping of supplements. Those who are fans of the movie should seek out a purchase - others who are interested should try a rental first.