Slack Magic

Hal's indoctrinated wish for a perfect woman is granted when he's hypnotized by a handy self-help guru to see people—mainly women—for their "inner beauty." Thus, 300-pound chair-collapser Rosemary Shanahan looks to Hal like a bodacious Gwyneth Paltrow. The movie's moral—we're all programmed to admire arbitrary physical ideals—is demonstrated as much by the "normal" Paltrow's seemingly enhanced booty as by the fat suit she periodically wears. (Encased in the latter, the actress suggests a pretty Jabba the Hutt.) A former Peace Corps volunteer, Rosemary not only works with hospitalized children but, in a necessary plot complication, turns out to be the boss's daughter.

It's fun to watch Paltrow treat the role of Rosemary as an Actors Studio exercise, delicately piloting her nonexistent bulk through the world. Indeed, the movie's most interesting reversal has a succession of total babes blossom with geeky pleasure under the dubious light of Hal's attentions. Black, a tubby wise guy, doesn't bring much more to the role than a cross-eyed scrunch; Shallow Hal might have been helped by the presence of Jim Carrey, although Carrey's manic absence of sincerity would have transmuted the movie's correct attitude into something more carnivalesque.

Basically a one-joke affair, Shallow Hal suffers from indifferent craft and excessive length, particularly since it has already given up its best sight gags—involving canoes and swimming pools—in the trailers. Attempting anti-entertainment, the movie comes across as a lecture for restless children, ultimately rewarding the audience with a heartwarming, blatantly fake Rocky-esque conclusion.


Paper chase: Radcliffe in Harry Potter
photo: Peter Mountain
Paper chase: Radcliffe in Harry Potter

Details

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone
Directed by Chris Columbus
Written by Steve Kloves, from the novel by J.K. Rowling
Warner Bros.
Opens November 16

Shallow Hal
Directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly
Written by the Farrellys and Sean Moynihan
20th Century Fox

Lola
Written and directed by Jacques Demy
Winstar
Film Forum November 16 through 29

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Revived at Film Forum in a new 35mm print, Jacques Demy's 1961 Lola is a benign Blue Angel, in which the eponymous cabaret chanteuse and inadvertent heartbreaker (Anouk Aimée) waits patiently for the lover who abandoned her seven years before.

Demy's insouciant first feature—shot by Raoul Coutard in black-and-white Cinema-scope in Demy's hometown of Nantes—is also his most New Wave. Dedicated to Max Ophüls, Lola begins more or less where the more butch Bob le Flambeur ends, with a white Cadillac convertible parked on a French beach. American sailors roam through the port (seemingly played by French actors speaking phonetic English) and a sad young man, just fired from his boring job, seeks solace in an obscure Mark Robson movie with an aging Gary Cooper. This fondness for fantasy America extends to Lola's heroine. Aimée's romantic character may be named for Marlene Dietrich's femme fatale (and look like a ripe Jacqueline Kennedy), but basically she's playing Marilyn Monroe in River of No Return or Bus Stop—at once brazen and vulnerable, full of breathy chatter and giggly innocence. "There's a bit of happiness in simply wanting happiness," she explains.

In between café blah-blah and wistful set pieces, Lola toys with a blatantly underdeveloped criminal subplot, but Demy is far more interested in evoking the excitement of first love and old movies than orchestrating a shoot-'em-up. The sailors on leave have their own On the Town moves and Michel Legrand's score bubbles up under the most banal interactions. Like a Hollywood fairy tale, Lola is always threatening to turn into a musical. Its edge as a film comes from the fact that it never quite does.

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