Worth A Look: 30.63%
Pretty Bad: 20%
Total Crap: 11.88%
12 reviews, 88 user ratings
|What Women Want (2000)
by Stephen Groenewegen
Ever see Jeff Bridges and Barbra Stresiand in The Mirror Has Two Faces? Or Andie MacDowell and Gerard Depardieu in Green Card? They were the first two examples that came to mind of romantic comedy pairings that didn’t exactly steam up the screen. Unfortunately, you can add Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt to the list. Which is a shame, because What Women Want starts out as an amiable comedy, with a few good laughs.Gibson is Nick Marshall, an executive at Sloane Curtis, an upmarket Chicago advertising agency. Sloane Curtis is struggling to maintain its hold in the marketplace so the boss (Alan Alda) hires Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt) from a rival firm to help
capture the “women’s market” by teaching the male directors how to think like women (presumably the women directors we see at meetings can think for themselves). As Alda’s character tells the board, the lucrative demographic target for the late 1990s is 16-24 year old women.
Marshall’s a “man’s man” - a misogynist, in other words - who’s furious when McGuire takes over the creative director position he coveted. When a freak accident enables Marshall to overhear women’s thoughts, he gains the perfect opportunity for revenge. During the lengthy set-up, while Marshall is still unaware that women can think, we’re introduced to the three significant women in his life - his teenage daughter Alex (Ashley Johnson), business rival McGuire, and Lola (Marisa Tomei), an aspiring actress he can’t resist asking out while buying his morning coffee. The film-makers probably could have saved some time with these sequences, since Marshall is similar to the conservative action heroes that Gibson’s played so often; the sort of character who’s misgynistic and homophobic while he’s heroic, let alone on his days off.
The “freak accident” is the closest the film comes to a big comic set-piece, and director Nancy Meyers (she directed The Parent Trap, and wrote 1980s “chick flicks” Private Benjamin and Baby Boom) thinks it’s so great she has Marshall re-stage the scene the following night in a vain attempt to reverse the process. It’s unforgiveable to re-use the same jokes so quickly (imagine if Ben Stiller got his penis stuck twice during There’s Something About Mary), but it’s inexplicably funny seeing Mel Gibson - cursing, cigarette hanging out his mouth - wearing nail polish, struggling into pantyhose and waxing his legs. (Since all it takes to gain insight into the female mind is a shower of sparks, does this make male electricians more susceptible to
understanding women than the rest of us?)
When Marshall wakes up after the accident, he can hear women thinking inside his head as if they were speaking directly to him. This is where the fun really starts. Being able to read minds has a primitive appeal, and it’s a good foundation for a
battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Once he realises he’s hearing women think, Marshall’s instantly cowed. He feels attacked and besieged by women; he shrinks, becoming paranoid and insecure. He’s lost his self-confident swagger. It’s satisfying and funny to watch, since Marshall - used to winning games in the workplace - doesn’t see this as a strategic advantage; it just gives him a migraine. It takes a visit to a marriage counsellor (an uncredited Better Midler) to wake him up: since “men are from Mars and women are from Venus, and you speak Venusian, then women are yours”.
By having him too dumb to see this as a gift, writers Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (working from a story by Diane Drake) are reassuringly telling us they’re not in love with this guy. Later, for contrived comic reasons, they have Marshall go through the humiliation of telling Lola that he’s gay (Gibson’s discomfort during this scene may not be acting, and he gives Marshall a homophobic, limp-wristed wave to end the scene). Gibson’s often a stolid screen presence, but he brings a devilish touch to this film’s early scenes. He does a great Sean Connery impression, and dons a top hat to dance - in homage to Bing Crosby - around his spacious apartment, with Frank Sinatra
on the soundtrack. Gibson was apparently inspired by Sinatra for his misogynist persona, and the rest of the film mechanically takes its cue from this. As well as Sinatra, Alan Silvestri provides a brassy score, and up-tempo renditions of Cole Porter
feature as background music.
The script has some snappy lines. I especially liked Tomei’s Lola, her mind wandering during sex, pondering “is Britney on Leno tonight?”, unaware that a rapidly-wilting Gibson is listening in. But the jokes don’t come as thick and fast as in
the 1940s Hollywood comedies the film aspires to. Structurally, What Women Want is a train wreck. It lurches from sub-plot to sub-plot (Marshall’s relationship with the principal women) with an alarming lack of subtlety, and reintroduces characters
you’d forgotten about or assumed were no longer significant. Dean Cundey’s cinematography - like Nancy Meyers’ direction - is generally effective, if unremarkable.
Helen Hunt’s is really a supporting role. She’s apparently a tough bitch in the workplace, something Hunt can’t convey (when she’s angry, she just seems frazzled). Deep down of course, McGuire only wants to be loved. She spends most of the film
helpless and confused, falling under Marshall’s spell, and unable to cope with the pace at Sloane Curtis. Hunt’s skill at seamlessly shifting from serious and level-headed to vulnerable and daffy is put to good use here. Despite her limited role,
she helps lighten up the movie. The rest of the cast is fine; Mark Feuerstein is pleasing as Marshall’s male confidante, and it’s a shame he vanishes from the film so early.
Marshall’s ability to hear thoughts diminishes as he falls for McGuire (should we assume he’s less bothered by women as he becomes more sensitive to their wants?). It’s a shame, because the comedy dries up with his ability to eavesdrop. Gibson’s
hairstyle changes (which another character pointlessly draws attention to) and he takes on a dour look. The life goes out of him and the film, and he looks as if he received bad news while making the movie (perhaps they were filming the weekend that The Patriot was pummelled by The Perfect Storm at the US box office). From hereon in, What Women Want becomes another soggy romantic comedy, starring two actors lacking the requisite chemistry. The ending feels tampered-with and rushed - as if an unruly preview audience in Kentucky wanted more romance at the end, and the
film-makers only had a few days to comply.
What Women Want has a calculated Hollywood feel in general, and I think the explanation lies in Alda’s throwaway line about the importance of the 16-24 female demographic. This film is What Women Want, according to Hollywood market research (16 year old girls get some Christine Aguilera on the soundtrack but will, I
suspect, be hard pressed to identify with Marshall’s whiny daughter).The older-man-wins-younger-woman age gap isn’t as marked here as in Jack Nicholson and Warren Beatty films (Gibson is either 45 or 50 according to the Internet Movie Database; Hunt and Tomei are 37 and 36 respectively), but I do wonder if dating an older man is really what most women fantasise about. The money isn’t even an excuse here - Hunt’s character is Gibson’s boss, and is supposed to be paid more. (Stephen Groenewegen)
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originally posted: 12/27/00 12:41:48