- The Washington Times - Friday, November 9, 2001

Last weekend was redeemed by "Monsters, Inc." This weekend, the movies seem to be trusting in redemption through romantic-comedy overcompensation. The French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, previously a specialist in horror fantasy, reinvents himself as a Parisian cheerleader in "Amelie."
Bobby and Peter Farrelly, the fraternal team from Providence, R.I., who redefined moronic farce in "Dumb and Dumber" and lewdly outrageous farce in "There's Something About Mary," take their own turn for the benign and solicitous in "Shallow Hal," which pretends to champion "inner beauty" for the benefit of a schnook conditioned to pursue women for looks alone.
Sentiment hasn't been entirely absent from the Farrelly formula, but "Shallow Hal" relies on it as a sustaining emotion to an unexpected degree. The casting of Gwyneth Paltrow as the leading lady protects the brothers while they make an adjustment to tenderheartedness. The movie might logically be titled "There's Something About Rosemary," alluding to Miss Paltrow's character, a sweet-natured but severely obese and emotionally guarded young woman named Rosemary Shanahan. Her unsightly aspects are largely masked from both the audience and the title character, who becomes an adoring but deluded suitor.
He's deluded for his own benefit, I should add. Becoming fond of the adorable Rosemary, as embodied by a familiar Gwyneth Paltrow, supposedly prepares Jack Black as Shallow Hal Larsen to value the intangibles. Belatedly, he realizes there is a massive Rosemary who was always perceptible to everyone else Miss Paltrow in a capacious fat suit and bulging facial disguise.
Mr. Black, the amusing smarty-pants from "High Fidelity," may do more to protect the likability of Hal than the role can do for him as a comic specialist. He has to resign himself to acting clueless for most of the movie while preserving at least a core of sweetness and decency in his unknowing wretch.
A junior executive in an investment company during office hours, Hal becomes a compulsive but perhaps luckless skirt-chaser once happy hour begins.
What makes him salvageable to a considerable extent is contrast with an even more pathetic sidekick: Jason Alexander as crass, kibitzing Mauricio, who can't comprehend the infatuation with Rosemary and attempts to sabotage it when he discovers that a form of white magic was involved.
Indeed, it's rather amazing to find Mr. Alexander playing essentially the same role he did in "Pretty Woman" a decade earlier.
Instead of trying to spoil romance for Richard Gere and Julia Roberts, he tries to spoil it for Mr. Black and Miss Paltrow.
However, the Farrellys take pity of a sort on Mauricio and give him their equivalent of absolution: a veiled and wacky deformity.
Hal's susceptibility to Rosemary requires a mind-altering influence: the motivational guru Tony Robbins, who plays himself.
The Farrellys arrange for an accidental meeting in a stalled elevator.
Appalled by Hal's one-track mind about amorous matters but professionally determined to be patient and helpful, Mr. Robbins implants a powerful hypnotic suggestion: From that moment forward, Hal will see only genuine inner beauty reflected in the outer forms of the women he encounters.
While deceiving Hal for his own good, theoretically, this device also allows the Farrellys to have their cake and eat it for a while, contrasting the endearing rapport between Rosemary and Hal as they begin courting with the bemusement or astonishment of characters who can see the hefty Rosemary.
There's a sense in which Miss Paltrow makes the fat suit superfluous even before she takes up residence in it for longer than the fleeting sight gag. She moves with a waddling motion that seems incongruous on a slim girl but does effectively suggest a ponderous Rosemary.
She's also clevery fitted with blouses a bit small, so the buttons seem to be under some invisible pressure.
The weary, resigned note in her voice may be the most effective sentimental weapon in the movie a hint that getting her hopes up about any potential suitor has become a fool's game in Rosemary's experience.
"Shallow Hal" skates gingerly and deftly between sappy and slapstick extremes, but I think only the formidable charm of Miss Paltrow merely pretending to be a fat girl prevents an icy plunge into sanctimonious depths.


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