Gwyneth Paltrow says the film challenges the audience's preconceptions, but not everybody's laughing at the Farrellys' fat jokes

By Liane Bonin
Updated November 16, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST
Gwyneth Paltrow: John Spellman/Retna

In the Farrelly brothers’ ”Shallow Hal,” Gwyneth Paltrow plays Rosemary, a warm-hearted Peace Corps volunteer who starts an unlikely romance with a superficial lothario named Hal (”High Fidelity”’s Jack Black). Thanks to the power of suggestion, Hal is temporarily blinded to Rosemary’s obesity. He later comes to accept her exactly as she is, but some people are wondering if the movie itself is less than loving towards the large.

”The moral of the story is lovely, but that’s not good enough,” says Sally E. Smith, editor in chief of BBW, a magazine for plus-size women. ”People who are biased against people of size won’t come away from that movie with the happily-ever-after message. Every stereotype about fat people is reinforced.” For example, 300-pound Rosemary has two restaurant seats collapse beneath her, eats like a ravenous linebacker, and manages to propel a little boy into a tree from the force of her cannonball dive into a swimming pool.

Smith feels many of the jokes are not only unkind, but perpetuate myths about heavy people. ”Plus-size women don’t break chairs all the time, and we aren’t compulsively eating,” she says. ”There are many reasons why people are larger than average, and food consumption isn’t a major reason. It can be genetic, or it can be from yo-yo dieting, for example.”

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