Shallow Hal

Shallow Hal (2001)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow, Jack Black, Jason Alexander
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, Music Video, Trailers

As a Farrelly brothers film you can rest assured that "Shallow Hal" is infused with a very bent sense of humor. What may come as a bit of a shock is that the film is actually fairly sweet and seldom drops to the same level of gross-out humor as most of their previous efforts.

As the movie opens we witness young Hal Larson receiving a final life lesson from his dying father. The Reverend Larson tells his son that he should never settle for ugly women and that a nice can is tops in his book. With that bit of advice permanently imbedded in Hal’s psyche the film fast forwards a few decades.

Hal (Jack Black) and his best pal Mauricio Wilson (Jason Alexander), are two dumpy guys with unrealistic expectations when it comes to women. Both realize that they have their sights set pretty high but they just don’t care.
Stuck in a broken elevator with self-help god Tony Robbins, Hal receives a life-altering gift that enables him to see people for their inner rather than outer beauty. Before he knows it, Hal is scoring with all manner of beautiful women and having the time of his life. Mauricio is aghast at his friend’s new found penchant for beer goggles and tries to tell Hal that his lovelies aren’t so lovely in the looks department.

When Hal stumbles upon the gorgeous Rosemary Shanahan (Gwyneth Paltrow) he knows that he’s found the love of his life. Complicating matters is the fact that her father is the head of Hal’s company and that Rose isn’t exactly a delicate little flower.
When Mauricio succeeds in getting Tony Robbins to remove his gift, Hal must confront the ugliness of his previous shallow view toward women and decide if there’s more to love than just looks.

"Shallow Hal" is a fairly formulaic film that would seem trite and patronizing in the hands of most filmmakers. But the Farrelly’s infuse the proceedings with great zest and humor and they aren’t afraid to skewer even those whom the film seeks to humanize. Sure the message is that looks really shouldn’t matter but that doesn’t stand in the way of some over-the-top humor at the expense of the less conventionally attractive members of society.

Jack Black is actually quite restrained in his role while Gwyneth Paltrow shines whether she’s sporting a size 2 or a size 42. As in most Farrelly films, the bit players steal the show and their antics help to keep things from getting too syrupy.

Presented in 1.85:1 <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen>, "Shallow Hal" arrives on DVD with a decent, but far from stellar, video transfer. The overall image quality is a bit too soft for a film of such recent vintage and black levels are surprisingly weak at times. There is even some edge enhancement which is odd considering the softness of the picture. But colors are nice and vibrant and the transfer suffers from no blemishes or further imperfections. It’s certainly watchable but far from the best possible on the DVD format.

Audio comes in English <$DD,Dolby Digital> 5.1 as well as French and Spanish DD 2.0 mixes. The soundtrack is well-balanced and clear requiring no fiddling with the volume levels. There isn’t much in the way of deep bass or noticeable directional effects but the dialogue and music are always clear.

The DVD also offers up some nice bonus features. First up is a Farrelly brothers <$commentary,commentary track>. If you’ve heard one from their previous discs then you’ll know what to expect here. Most of the discussion centers on pointing out the bit players on-screen and rambling off on odd tangents. They never really discuss the film at any length but the commentary is somewhat amusing if you’re in the right frame of mind.

Next up are a slew of featurettes. "HBO Special: Being Shallow Hal" is a 15-minute promo bit that offers some nice interview snippets with the cast and crew. "Reel Comedy: Shallow Hal" is a 22-minute Comedy Central production that pretty much covers the same ground as the HBO piece. "Seeing Through the Layers" is a 12-minute look at the difficult task of adding 300 pounds to Ms. Paltrow. The best part of this piece is when she goes out to mingle with real folks while dressed in the fat suit. It must have been a mind-altering experience for her to see life through those chubby eyes. The final featurette is the 3-minute "In at the Deep End with Shallow Hal" which covers the handful of special effects sequences in the film.

The disc also features 11 deleted scenes available with or without commentary. I found most of these to be quite funny and they’re certainly worth a look. In fact, I laughed harder at some of the deleted scenes than I did at anything that made it into the final cut.

Also included are a music video for Shelby Lynne’s "Wall in your Heart," the "Shallow Hal" theatrical trailer, and trailers for previous Farrelly brothers films as well as some other Fox new and upcoming releases.

I found "Shallow Hal" to be much more entertaining than I had expected. Previous Farrelly brothers films have left me cold but this one actually seemed to have some heart. Sure it’s really just one giant cliche wrapped up with some warped humor but it worked for me. Fox’s new DVD offers up an adequate audio/visual presentation as well as some decent extras.