Hal Larsen is a really shallow guy who only dates women with model physiques, until he unknowingly gets hypnotized into seeing people's inner beauty rather than their projected outward appearances.
Hal (Jack Black) spends most of his time with his sleazy friend Mauricio (Jason Alexander) in nightclubs, chasing women who basically look like supermodels. Ironic, considering Hal and Mauricio are both unattractive and devoid of personalities. In one of the film's funnier moments, Hal gets stuck in an elevator with self-help guru Anthony Robbins, who hypnotizes the shallow fellow into seeing people's inner beauty rather than judging them purely on looks. Shortly after, Hal falls for Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), who he sees as skinny knockout rather than an obese woman. (Rosemary's inner beauty comes from being a Peace Corps volunteer who also helps out at the burn unit of the local hospital.) Annoyed that his best friend is dating a ''rhino,'' Mauricio convinces Robbins to remove the spell so that he can have his old judgmental buddy back. Hal is then left to deal with seeing Rosemary for what she physically is and confront his feelings for her.
In Shallow Hal, Paltrow (Bounce) makes a departure from her usual corseted roles, and was convincing as the shy, unconfident Rosemary. But most of the laughs come from seeing chairs collapse underneath Paltrow's supposed weight and getting a glimpse of her large purple thongs rather than her performance. The film also delivers many never before seen shots of Paltrow's crotch, whether it's of her bending over in skimpy lavender lingerie or falling off a collapsed chair in a dress with her legs flailing. Either way, we definitely see Paltrow in a different light. Black (Saving Silverman) is impressive playing the part of a guy who doesn't get that he's with someone obese. His confused reactions, like when Rosemary's end of a canoe outweighs his, are genuinely funny. Alexander (The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle) is equally amusing with his painted on hair, but his character's neurosis parallel's Jerry Seinfeld's a little too much.
Directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly move away from their usual gross-out comedies like Dumb and Dumber and attempt a more heartfelt picture, hoping to make people laugh and cry. Shallow Hal however, does not succeed on either levels. The film is constantly driving home the point that it's wrong to judge people based on their looks, but then derives most of the laughs from people's appearances. At one point, Mauricio explains that Rosemary has ''cankles,'' an anatomical appendage that happens when someone is so fat that their calves hang down over their ankles. Sure, it's hysterical, but are we supposed to laugh or become conscience-stricken? If it is at all possible to fuse politically incorrect humor and sensitivity, it doesn't happen in this film. And while Paltrow has said she believes Shallow Hal will challenge the audience's perception of fat people, it probably won't.
Shallow Hal is not the knee-slapper audiences have come to expect from the Farrelly brothers, but has some clever lines and a sweet, albeit clichéd, moral.