The Farrelly Brothers are not known for making refined, politically correct comedies. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that SHALLOW HAL ($28) has plenty of moments where good tastes are nowhere to be found. However, what I did find surprising about this movie is that there is a layer of sweetness and charm sandwiched in between the cruder comic moments. On the filmís politically incorrect side, an obese leading character becomes the butt of many of the movieís jokes and sight gags. On its sweeter side, SHALLOW HAL does make a statement about inner beauty being far more important that what people look like on the outside.
The plot of SHALLOW HAL follows the title character Hal (Jack Black), who is a nice guy, but spends all of his free time in pursuit of women way outside of his league. Then one day, Halís path crosses that of self-help guru Tony Robbins, who changes our shallow protagonistís worldview, by making it possible for Hal to only see a personís inner beauty and not their outward appearance. Soon Hal meets up with the exquisitely beautiful Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), whom he quickly becomes enamored. Hal then introduces Rosemary to his neurotic and even shallower friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander), who is perplexed to discover that the woman Hal describes as incredibly beautiful, weighs well over three hundred pounds.
Much of the filmís charm and humor is derived from seeing the world from Halís point of view, juxtaposed against the realities of the weighty situation that he finds himself in with Rosemary. Jack Black comes across as a very likable, albeit misguided, goofball of a leading man, who learns to see with his heart and not his eyes. Gwyneth Paltrow is pretty delightful as Rosemary, playing the character in the same very natural manner, whether she is in Halís idealized view of her, or as a three hundred pound woman dealing with the realities of her world. Paltrow even carries off the required physical comedy quite well, showing that an Academy Award should be no deterrent to an actor taking a stab at lowbrow humor. Jason Alexander doesnít seem to stretching himself with his neurotic supporting performance, which is very reminiscent of the role he played on a very popular sitcom. The Farrelly Brothers would appear to have reined themselves in with SHALLOW HAL, staying away from many of the gross out comic excesses of such films as KINGPIN, DUMB AND DUMBER and THEREíS SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, this approach work some of the time, but I miss the laugh out loud antics of their earlier films. The cast of SHALLOW HAL also includes Joe Viterelli, Rene Kirby, Bruce McGill, Susan Ward, Zen Gesner, Nan Martin, Jill Christine Fitzgerald, and Brooke Burns.
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made SHALLOW HAL available on DVD in a 1.85:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This is a really good looking transfer, not what one would call demonstration quality, but comedies are about making the jokes work and not about creating exceedingly artful cinematography. The image on the DVD is bright, clean and sharp, with only occasional shots appearing a bit soft. Film grain is held in check fairly well, with only a few moments when it is even slightly noticeable. Colors tend to be warm and very attractive, with naturalistic looking flesh tones. Blacks are accurately rendered, contrast is wonderfully smooth and shadow detail is very good. Actually, there are no real dark scenes in the movie, with even the nighttime sequences being exceedingly well lit. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts in check throughout the course of the film.
SHALLOW HAL is offered on DVD with a Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. While very nice sounding, the mix is of the standard comedy variety. The forward soundstage is predominant, with the surround channels seeing only occasional activity. Dialogue reproduction is excellent, with every line coming across crisply and with complete intelligibility. Like most modern comedies, a good deal of popular music has found its way into the soundtrack of SHALLOW HAL and it is reproduced with excellent fidelity. Although the bass channel doesnít have much to do, it is solidly felt for occasional effects and to enhance the music on the soundtrack. French and Spanish Dolby Surround soundtracks are also encoded onto the DVD, as are English subtitles.
Some animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís delightfully goofy interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplemental materials. Co-directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly are present for a running audio commentary that is entertaining and offers their typical whoís who of their friends and relatives playing bit parts in the movie. Also included on the DVD is the HBO making of special Being Shallow Hal, which runs about fifteen minutes and is hosted by the beauteous Brooke Burns, who also interviews various people on the street about what it means to be shallow, in addition to introducing the plugs for the movie. The most interesting aspect of this program is seeing Gwyneth Paltrowís emotional first experience wearing the "fat suit" in a public setting and getting a real feeling for what it is to be obese.
Running slightly over twenty minutes is the Reel Comedy: Shallow Hall special from Comedy Central, which offers somewhat more substantial interviews with the cast and crew. Seeing Through the Layers runs less than fifteen minutes and offers a detailed look at how the makeup was able to transform Gwyneth Paltrow into the larger version of her character Rosemary. Running two minutes is In The Deep End With Shallow Hal, which is a look at how the filmís most advertised sight gag was achieved. Eleven deleted scenes are present on the DVD and are offered with the option of directorís commentary. A Shelby Slynne's music video for the song Wall In Your Heart is also provided on the DVD, as is a theatrical trailer for SHALLOW HAL, plus bonus trailers for MINORITY REPORT, UNFAITHFUL and THE BANGER SISTERS.
SHALLOW HAL displays the softer side of The Farrelly Brothers, and while not as hilarious as the gross-out comedies that made them famous, this movie is funny and it does have a big heart. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has produced a fine looking and sounding DVD that offers a nice package of supplements. If you are a fan of The Farrelly Brothers, or this movie in particular, you will definitely want to check out SHALLOW HAL on DVD.
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