The Farrelly Brothers, known for shattering the good taste barrier with gross-out comedies like “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber” have taken a couple of giant, if uncertain, steps toward the mainstream with a fairly conventional romantic comedy. It even has an undeniably sweet moral. If you’ve ever seen one of their movies, you know that “moral” is not the first word that comes to mind, unless you could say that the moral of “There’s Something About Mary” is that guys should be very careful when they zip up their pants and girls should watch what they put in their hair. But here the moral is that true beauty is seen with the heart, not the eyes (short pause for everyone to say, “Awwwwwww”).
Hal (Jack Black) and his best friend Mauricio (Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander) are two pudgy guys who insist on women with absolute physical perfection. We see why Hal feels that way in a brief prologue from his childhood. His dying father, a minister, tells him that the one thing for him to remember is that “hot young tail is what it’s all about” and he should “never settle for average.” Even though Hal grows up to be a pretty nice guy who is good at his job, when it comes to women, he is undeniably shallow.
Then he and infomercial star Anthony Robbins (playing himself) get stuck in an elevator together, and Robbins gives Hal a gift — from now on, Hal will see people the way they are, not the way they look. Suddenly, all around him are gorgeous girls who are very interested in him. They’re interested in him because he thinks they are beautiful, and he thinks they are beautiful because they are kind, generous, beautiful people. Mauricio is horrified, especially when Hal falls for Rosemary (Gwyneth Paltrow), who volunteers at the local hospital and works for the Peace Corps. Mauricio looks at her and sees a hugely obese woman. Hal looks at her and sees — Gwyneth Paltrow.
Black is one of my favorite comic performers. His performance was the best part of “High Fidelity” and he made “Saving Silverman” almost worthwhile. His speciality is a sort of frenzied but charming energy, and unfortunately, this movie does not give him much opportunity to show it off. Paltrow has some nice moments as Rosemary. She makes us see the vulnerability of a woman who has felt humiliatingly invisible all her life. But one problem with the movie is that instead of the characters themselves being funny, the jokes in the movie happen around them. A bigger problem is that almost all of the jokes are in the commercial and coming attraction. Black and Paltrow do the best they can, but there just is not enough comic energy at the core of the movie.
Some Farelly trademarks make it into the movie, including a disabled character (athlete Rene Kirby, who has spina bifida) and a bizarre physical aberration. But overall, it seems as though it is something of a transitional film for the Farrellys, enjoyable on its own and as a suggestion of better things to come.
Parents should know that the movie has very strong language for a PG-13, especially the sexual references. Characters drink, and several scenes are set at a bar/nightclub. The overall theme of the movie is the importance of judging people based on their behavior, not their looks. Robbins explains that Black is not hypnotized now — he was hypnotized before, when he thought that all of the television and movie images of beauty were what mattered. Some viewers may feel that the movie itself makes fun of people who do not fit current standards of beauty. A disabled character is treated with complete naturalness — he is by no means perfect (because he gets around on all fourts, he tells girls he recognizes them by their panties), but he is good-hearted and respected.
Families who see this movie should talk about what we look at and what we look for when we meet people. If we saw the way Hal does, who would be the most beautiful person you know? How would you look? Would you like to see people the way Hal does?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Outside Providence based on a book by Peter Farrelly.