Gwyneth Paltrow's Least Favourite Performance Was In 'Shallow Hal'

She called the 2001 comedy a "disaster."

Today in good news, Gwyneth Paltrow has indicated that she’s capable of recognizing her mistakes... 19 years later.

In a promo video for her Netflix show, Paltrow’s friend and Goop enabler Kevin Keating is asked to guess her least favourite performance. He offers “Shallow Hallow,” an amusingly rhyme-y take on the name of the 2001 rom-com “Shallow Hal.”

Paltrow nods grimly in response, says “Exactly,” and then goes on to joke about how she clearly needs Keating in her life.

“That was before your time,” she says. “See what happened? Disaster.”

The interaction takes place around the 1:50 mark in the video below.

“Shallow Hal” had an exceedingly 2001 plot: the titular main character has been hypnotized to only see people’s “inner beauty,” and so when he meets a 300-pound woman, he sees her as Gwyneth Paltrow. Later in the movie, when the hypnosis is broken, Paltrow wears a fat suit.

While the movie is supposedly meant to teach us to look beyond physical appearance and stop being cruel to people we consider ugly, it’s jam-packed with jokes at fat people’s expense. At one point, Paltrow’s character jumps into a pool, creating a splash so powerful it sends a child hurtingly into a tree. Her chair breaks repeatedly when she’s seated in public places.

In a review for Rolling Stone, film critic Peter Travers wrote “there is something condescending, not to mention hypocritical, about asking an audience to laugh uproariously at the spectacle of a fat person being sneered at and dissed as “rhino’ or ‘hippo’ or ’holy cow,’ and then to justify those laughs by saying it’s society’s fault and tacking on a happy ending that allegedly teaches a moral lesson.”

(Funny story: the movie’s co-director Peter Farrelly went on to win an Oscar for the very contentious “Green Book.”

Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a fat suit in "Shallow Hal."
Gwyneth Paltrow wearing a fat suit in "Shallow Hal."

Even at the time, it sounds like Paltrow had some degree of empathy for the people who live in larger bodies. Wearing the fat suit, and clocking people’s reactions to her, was “isolating,” she said in a 2001 interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“No one would even look at me,” she said. “People would see that I was heavy in their peripheral vision and not look, because I think they assume that’s the polite thing to do. It was incredibly isolating and really lonely and sad.”

It was more “upsetting” than she expected, she said. “I thought the whole thing would be funny, and then as soon as I put it on, I thought, well, you know, this isn’t all funny.”

It turns out that would have been a good instinct to follow.

Paltrow putting on her fat suit for "Shallow Hal."
Paltrow putting on her fat suit for "Shallow Hal."

Gorgeous, rail-thin women wearing fat suits for “comedy” was all the rage back then. Julia Roberts wore one in “America’s Sweethearts,” and Courtney Cox wore one frequently in flashback scenes on “Friends.”

Virgie Tovar, the author of “You Have The Right To Remain Fat,” told Vice that fat suits allow viewers to watch stories about weight and body image without having to actually relate to a fat person.

“Viewers know that beneath the fat suit there’s a thin person we can root for... without violating cultural rules of fat hatred,” Tovar said.

Gwyneth Paltrow at the Harper's Bazaar Exhibition as part of the Paris Fashion Week on Feb. 26.
Gwyneth Paltrow at the Harper's Bazaar Exhibition as part of the Paris Fashion Week on Feb. 26.

We can hope that we’ve progressed enough as a society that a movie like “Shallow Hal” wouldn’t get made today. The Netflix series “Insatiable,” about a fat girl who becomes popular after she’s forced to lose weight when she’s punched in the face, premiered in the summer of 2018 to significant outcry. Vox called it “obscenely cruel,” Vulture called it “an utter disaster,” IndieWire said it was the worst show Netflix had released, and there were numerous petitions to get it shut down due to the potential damage it could do to teen girls.

The show’s second season aimed to be less judgmental and more even-handed, but it was later canceled.

Everyone makes mistakes, and we all hope we can learn from them. Perhaps in 19 years, Paltrow will finally acknowledge that sticking an egg in your vagina is not a great idea.

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