What Women Want
review by Elias Savada, 29 December 2000

Acclaimed as an action star in the Lethal Weapon and Mad Max anthologies, a historical widescreen fancier earlier this year with The Patriot and his 1995 award-winning Braveheart, Mel Gibsonís roguish advertising executive in What Women Want takes a sidestep, showcasing his hitherto second-tier romantic comedy talents that borrow a whimsical wink from Maverick and a lateral pass from the head strong arrogance and lunacy of Detective Sergeant Martin Riggs. Particularly in his serial male view of the female psyche and of the opposite sex as authority figures. In Melís calmer, gentler, millennial mode (still sexy after all these years), bad guys and gunplay have been replaced by fantasy and foreplay, and an irascible twinkle that offers up a stocking-full of yuletide good cheer, even if the script is a little weak on the believability front. Some of you donít believe in Santa Claus either. The initial holiday crowds appear to like the kinder side of womanizing Chicago ad man Nick Marshall, afflicted with a serious case of narcissistic self-importance. His disease approaches terminal repercussions until a few bolts of well placed electricity brings out an interesting solution to a Freudian dilemma. The unsaintly Nickís good dose of shock treatment may not be as good as it gets, but, with a nice glass of eggnog, What Women Want is an pleasant swallow.

Director Nancy Meyers (her second effort after The Parent Trap remake) molds a footloose and fancy free approach to the tale of a male chauvinist who unexpectedly finds himself privy to every womanís most innermost thoughts -- whether he likes it or not. She trots her star into several nightmarish scenes in which he is bombarded by the cacophonous truth that he is a fickle scoundrel detested by an ex-wife (Lauren Holly), a virginally-impaired fifteen-year-old daughter (Ashley Johnson, in a heartfelt, teenage performance), and a caseload of abused coworkers (pick a ticket). Despite his deficiencies, he embraces Sinatra (as does Alan Silvestriís score and the selections by music supervisor Bonnie Greenberg Goodman) and dances like Gene Kelly, even if his only partner is a wooden coat rack. Obviously thereís room for improvement and hence this amiable task of commercial comeuppance. Meyers decides that most of the mental conversations being eavesdropped come from women that are caught straight on in the camera lens from Nickís POV. Looking at a crowd, heís overwhelmed, but key in on a closeup and the voice over is reduced to a single opinion. I wonder if some mystery could have been played up with the central characterís inability to connect the voice with the face, but since most of the cast plays some role in his life, thereís no secret in their mental messages. Although one scene introduces his ability to read minds over telephone lines, the script (by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, writer/producers for the CBS sitcom The King of Queens) never explains how or why this happens.

As the hero/anti-heroís desire to put his unwanted gift to his own calculated gain increases, a nagging sense of decency and growing attention (spurious, then amorous) toward Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt), his ad agencyís new hotshot creative director (in a job Nick had been eyeing for some time), tugs at his male ego with a cautionary tale of woulda-shoulda-coulda remorse. His belated attempts to set things straight get clamped down just like the lid on his PowerBook. Seems heís too scared just to blurt it out straight to her face, and thus drags the film on a bit too long. There are several subplots that both embrace Nickís maturing moral sense and waning macho sexiness. Invisible office lonelyheart Erin (Judy Greer) unconsciously reveals her suicidal tendencies, while the sexy, ditsy Lola (Marisa Tomei), a lobby-level coffee shop worker, wants to offer Nick a sexy dessert to go along with that Cappuccino with extra foam. Meyers handles both sidebars with just the right touch of human concern or determined zestfulness.

Valerie Perrine and Delta Burke get a few precious moments as thoughtful yet thoughtless mother hens whose brainwaves (or lack thereof) donít register with Nickís supernatural powers. Mark Feuerstein (Woman on Top) and Alan Alda are Nickís only male acquaintances, the former a co-worker destined to replace Nick as the office chauvinist. There are some other men in the film, but damned if they say anything.

If I have a gripe or two, itís that for all the bitchiness attributed to Huntís character in the backrooms of the ad agency, sheís shown as nothing but hard-working cog with a solid, if lonely, head on her shoulder, trademark Helen Hunt looks, and a simple wardrobe thatís always solid colors (white, black, baby blue). Iím never fully convinced of the romance and the chemistry as I am of the vulnerability of the main characters to be attracted to each other by their frailties. But heck, Iím nitpicking and probably annoying any of you whoíve read this far. Sorry. Bring a date, buy a soda and some popcorn, make out in the back row.

Directed by:
Nancy Meyers

Starring:
Mel Gibson
Helen Hunt
Marisa Tomei
Mark Feuerstein
Lauren Holly
Ashley Johnson
Delta Burke
Valerine Perrine
Alan Alda

Written by:
Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa

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