Fat Is as Fat Does

I saw a preview of Shallow Hal today, a poorly named new offering from the Farrelly Brothers. The name isn't clever, but the movie is. Despite it being about a callow fellow, played by Tenacious D lead man Jack Black, the film isn't degrading. Who woulda guessed? In fact, it's full of laugh-with moments, rather than laugh-at. Black's a nice guy in the film who loves the ladies, but is plain and overeager enough (as is his pal played by Jason Alexander) to escape notice or to warrant escape from. Think the two dancing guys from Saturday Night Live (Will Ferrell and Chris Katan).

Here's where it gets nice instead of stupid. Black is stuck in an elevator with Anthony Robbins, the self-help guru, who sort of hypnotizes him to allow Black's warm heart to see the essence of people he hasn't met. Sounds pretty high concept, pretty cute. The filmmakers exercise enormous restraint, though, and while issuing a lot of fat jokes, they do portray a number of people with infirmities or physical problems (including a burn ward full of kids) in a completely sentimental-free, mockery-free zone. Yes, it's funny that Black sees a Hawaiian Peace Corps volunteer as fit and handsome, but when we see the same guy is huge, it's not a sight gag. It's a simple realization.

The ending needed some work, and a sublot with Jason Alexander's, uh, atavistic skeleton (won't reveal the plot point here) was excisable without major film surgery. But I liked it. I cried during some of the very sweet, but not maudlin, hospital scenes. And Paltrow completely understated her performance: she was the same character in or out of the fat suit, and there was no magic transformation at the end when we saw, for instance, Black see her once again as thin. Nope, she was big, baby, and beautiful.

There's a truly remarkable actor I want to see more of; I can't seem to figure out who he is from the cast list at IMDB. The guy has spina bifida, but there is never a moment in the film when the camera doesn't view him with respect and awe. He's a fine actor, and his physical form is truly unbelievable - especially the skiing at the end. I want to see more of this guy and, a la Verne Troyer, maybe his unusual physical issues will turn him into a star.