The Farrelly brothers made this movie. They also made

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Shallow Hal (2001)

Hal is so shallow that when someone asks him if he would prefer a woman with one breast or half a brain, he replies: "How big is the breast?" His balding sidekick, Mauricio (who sprays on most of his hair), isn't any deeper. They are obnoxious men with below-average looks and sexist values, always on the make but with nothing to offer any woman with even half a brain. They are oblivious to their character flaws and that is what makes them so funny.


Then one day, Hal (played by Jack Black) gets trapped in an elevator with self-help guru Tony Robbins and everything changes. After a brief conversation, Robbins hypnotizes Hal and tells him to see only the inner beauty of women. Suddenly, Hal's "luck" with women improves. He meets Rosemary, an ex-Peace Corps volunteer who now works in a children's hospital. When Hal looks at her, she is an intelligent and generous soul from a wealthy family and she just happens to looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. When we look at her, she is an intelligent and generous soul from a wealthy family and she just happens to weigh 300 pounds (Rosemary is played by Gwyneth Paltrow, alternatively wearing and not wearing a fat suit.)

All is well until Mauricio (Jason Alexander) breaks the hypnotic spell. Hal then sees all of Rosemary's 300 pounds and must make the decision of his life. Should he continue with his shallow ways or go for inner beauty? He makes the right choice, and in the end we see Rosemary carrying Hal to his car as they leave for a Peace Corps assignment.


The Farrelly brothers made this movie. They also made Dumb and Dumber, a buddy movie about two guys with low IQs, There's Something About Mary, about a paraplegic suitor, and Me, Myself, and Irene, about a schizophrenic police officer. Are the lives of the Farrelly brothers just one big sick joke? Have they devoted themselves to poking fun at people with disabilities? Quite the contrary. What is striking about their movies, and particularly Shallow Hal, is that they make us see the normality of disability. Shallow Hal is densely populated by people with disabilities and oddities who turn out to be just like everyone else. There is the little girl in Rosemary's hospital with horrific facial scars from third degree burns; the cross-dressing receptionist at the fancy restaurant where Hal first sees Rosemary's true girth; Rosemary's former boyfriend, who suffers from chronic and highly visible psoriasis; Hal's best friend, Mauricio, who has a vestigial tail at the base of his spine; and, most importantly, Walt (Rene Kirby). Walt has a curvature of the spine so severe he must walk on all fours. However, Kirby doesn't use a wheelchair. He skis, rides horses, cycles, and does acrobatics. He is a successful businessman who sells his software company to Microsoft for a fortune. He loves life and he loves women and he can laugh at himself. Consider this great pickup line, delivered at a nightclub: "Hey Sally, I've got a leash. Would you like to take me for a walk?" To which Sally, greatly amused, replies, "Come on, boy." The male viewer may be excused for wondering why he could never come up with such a clever opener.


The point of all this is not just that people with disabilities are ordinary folk with all the problems, quirks, deficiencies, and virtues of everyone else -- and a good deal more to contend with besides -- but that many of us are odd for not being able to see their normality. The Farrelly brothers may be trying to tell us that the person with the biggest disability in Shallow Hal is Hal as we first meet him, and that the people with the biggest disability in real life are all the "normal" people who think like him, equating difference with inferiority. Some audience members may think Rosemary is lucky for winning Hal, but in fact Hal is the one who really lucks out.

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