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Media Spot-Lite: Shallow Hal

October 12, 2011

What A Disaster

Yes, I realize I am about 10 years behind on this post (as I am with most things in life), but I JUST recently watched “Shallow Hal” for the first time ever (I’m an insomniac, ok?! And it was on TV!) and….Ugh. Wow. Aiaiaiaiai. And many other exclamations/expletives that I won’t let out on here right now. But really, WHO thought this was a good idea?

For those of you who are a decade behind just like me, let me give you the quick synopsis of this mess:

A shallow man falls in love with a 300 pound woman because of her “inner beauty”.

Following the advice of his dying father, Hal dates only women who are physically beautiful. One day, however, he runs into self-help guru Tony Robbins, who hypnotizes him into recognizing only the inner beauty of women. Hal thereafter meets Rosemary, a grossly obese woman whom only he can see as a vision of loveliness. But will their relationship survive when Hal’s equally shallow friend undoes the hypnosis?

Sounds like a real winner, right? Now, Jack Black (who I am already biased against as he reminds me of this a-hole I once dated…mannerisms and all, ew ew ew) plays Shallow Hal and it just seems absurdly ironic that the character himself (and his best friend, played by Jason Alexander, who is even more superficial even than Hal) is less-than-stellar in the physical appearance area. And yet he chases “gorgeous” women around, waxing philosophical with statements such as:

She’s way too pretty to be so nice.
Sometimes they’re ugly for so long that when they finally turn pretty, they don’t even realize it. It’s like the ugly self-image is so well-ingrained. That’s a real find.

or

You know, there are a few times in a guy’s life – and I mean two or three, tops – when he comes to a crossroads, and he’s gotta decide. If he goes one way, he can keep doing what he’s been doing and be with any woman who’ll have him. And if he goes the other way, he gets to be with only one woman, maybe – maybe for the rest of his life. Now it seems that by taking the other road, he’s missing out on a lot. But the truth is, he gets much more in return. He gets to be happy. Are you wearing panties?

Ugh. The problem is, I think the movie was trying to portray Hal as someone that needs a reality check (in the form of hypnosis from a self-help guru?) and is not likeable in the beginning but…neither is the female character and eventual object of his affections, played by Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie is heinous in its portrayal of weight and self-esteem and female sexuality and what “inside” versus “outside” beauty even entails and basically consists of a series of fat jokes, almost exclusively directed at women (even though the two main male characters are themselves overweight).

I understand that this movie supposedly has a moral–that we’re all societally programmed to admire and worship “arbitrary physical ideals” (which is, in and of itself, important and profound)–but watching it, I was filled with emotions mainly ranging from disgust to anger. Instead of breaking down stereotypes and negative ideas of the relationship between men and women and roles that they play, about society’s views of what is attractive and what is not, it consistently reinforces these and then attempts a feeble turnaround and epiphany that is not only unrealistic, but is insulting to the female character, who has had to deal with intense harassment and cruelty due to her weight but accepts affection because she knows “I’m not beautiful. And I never will be.” WTF?! What kind of a message is this supposed to send out exactly?! There is not one sympathetic character in the entire cast, and most of them embody the worst qualities of our society.

I was wondering if perhaps I was having this reaction because I am too close to the issues at hand–of weight, sexuality, femininity, attraction, and what beauty consists of. So, I decided to research what the critics had to say about the film those oh so many years ago, and it turns out we’re on exactly the same page:

…not only light on laughs but discomfitingly didactic in its disgust. A reverse ugly-duckling fable, this sweetly grotesque comedy is relentlessly devoted to the notion that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

The movie’s valuable message that we must look beyond physical appearances to find the heart within … is drowned out by the din of loathsome idiots mocking physical appearances.

What a mess. My advice is: even if you’re an insomniac and there’s nothing else on TV, skip this disaster and save yourself a ton of anger and insult. Does anyone remember this movie? And what were your reactions to it?

(Image courtesy of Filmous)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Creamonina permalink
    October 12, 2011 6:26 pm

    ew, even reading your post just got me riled up. saw that movie a while ago and HATED it. the disgust with which this movie treats fat people and fat women specifically is something to to be ASHAMED of, and information about how much fat-phobia our society is willing to condone. it is truly amazing to me how low down on the ladder sizeism really is – like how the hell did this make it to mainstream theaters???

  2. Joe permalink
    October 12, 2011 9:35 pm

    I remember this movie! Wow, that was indeed a while ago. Quite a horrendous and disgusting movie for sure-I would guess it only became mainstream because it had both Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow in it. How did she agree to do this movie??

  3. October 13, 2011 11:28 am

    @Joe, let’s not mistake Paltrow for a talented artist with high ethical standards who is grounded in reality…she is a narcissistic attention whore who appeals to the lowest common denominator (the dedicated readers of “In Style” and “People”), as does this predictable “comedy.” She’s the one out there giving parenting advice (effin’ LOL) to the masses as she goes to yoga classes and fasts/drinks hot water with lemon all day while a team of nannies wrangle her brood. I don’t watch many movies, but when I do, they aren’t ones starring Ms. Lispy. So, I haven’t seen this, but I do recall when it was out…and maybe in some way, the producers were trying to get across a sincere message about inner beauty (sure, sure they were) but it was lost among all the easy jokes about thong undewear being swallowed up in her butt crack or whatever. In any case, lowbrow movies aren’t meant to be teaching moments and I doubt that the audiences who have seen this film had their attitudes toward the obese influenced either way. If you were the kind of person who mocks overweight people, you still would be after seeing it. If you were an accepting person, you would have had that tendency reinforced by its (I assume) “lesson”…I’m with the blog here, though…skip it if you get the chance!

  4. October 13, 2011 8:13 pm

    I had the misfortune of seeing this in the theaters when it came out. The worst part was I went to it with my friend and his overweight wife (who had just freaking had twins so really, shut it) and through the whole movie he kept making really loud comments to his wife about how much better their marriage would be if she would just de-chunk and blah blah blah. I don’t know who I wanted to smack more – the hollywood people who made this or the real life people who think of it as a life manual. Ugh.

  5. annalee permalink
    October 22, 2011 6:53 pm

    I just realized how horribly over-enhanced Gwyeth Paltrow’s body is in the poster. I mean, please! Gwyneth Paltrow does not wear a C cup, nor does she have absolutely any ass. Ahh, the media is always contorting the female body…

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