By Rob Blackwelder
You know how in testosterone-charged action movies an explosion will be shown over and over again in slow motion, and from four or five different angles? The ultimate sign of a guy movie, right?
Well, in "What Women Want" -- a romantic comedy starring Mel Gibson as a man who can hear women's thoughts -- director Nancy Meyers shows, on more than one occasion, Mel passionately kissing Helen Hunt in slow-mo and from four or five different angles.
Yes, what I'm saying is that "What Women Want" is very possibly the chickiest chick flick of all time.
This is a movie in which the former Mad Max goes prom dress shopping with his teenage daughter. This is a movie in which a People Magazine's inaugural Sexiest Man Alive learns to think like a woman and is transformed from a misogynist into Captain Sensitive. This is a movie in which an aging Hollywood hunk falls in love with an intelligent woman less than 10 year his junior (gasp!).
The movie starts out better than most high-concept comedies with Mel, a Chicago ad executive specializing in Swedish Bikini Team-style beer commercials, becoming stunned and vengeful at being passed over for a promotion in favor of bringing a female perspective to the firm. Enter Helen Hunt, a go-getter who at her first meeting as creative director gives everyone on her team a box of feminine products and 24 hours to come up with concepts for ad campaigns.
Determined to show her up, Mel goes home and tries to "think like a broad." The movie's funniest moment is when his daughter and her new beau walk in on him wearing nail polish, panty hose and a Biore strip on his nose, while dancing around to Meredith Brooks's empowerment anthem "Bitch."
Moments later he spills a jar of bath beads on the floor, slips on them and lands in the tub while holding a hair dryer. Instead of killing him, the resulting zap turns him into a telepath who can hear the innermost thoughts of any female in earshot.
Mel's first epiphany is that nearly every woman in his life smiles sweetly at him while thinking what a pig he is. The venomous snaps that come out of these women's heads are comically penned, but there's a lack of credibility to them because Gibson never makes his early smarminess credible enough to dislike the guy. Director Meyers never develops his alleged (and contradictory) magnetic charm either, depending on Gibson's bright-eyed smile to get that across by itself.
To begin with, Mel uses his power to undermine his new boss by stealing her ideas for ad campaigns and to do even better with the ladies, reacting to the exact desires of a coffee shop girl (Marisa Tomei) he takes to bed. But before long all this unwanted female input has roused his softer side, and that's where the movie starts going down hill.
It's still funny when Mel starts giving boyfriend advice to tittering gaggles of coworkers around the water cooler. Watching him channel-surf past sports and stop on Martha Stewart while eating a rice cake gets hearty laughs too. But when the movie gets heavy-handed about how he's becoming a better person, all the comedy disappears and what's left is swimming in mawkishness and bogus sentimentality.
Where the movie really takes a turn for the worst is in the last act when Gibson reads the mind of a mousy intern, realizes she's going to commit suicide, and instead of making an effort to reach out to her then and there, waits until rescuing her -- just in the nick of time -- can be used as part of the picture's climax.
Of course, it's his romance with Hunt that is the centerpiece of "What Women Want," and the idea behind it is a good one: He falls for her because she almost always says what she thinks (i.e., he doesn't have to read her mind). Yet, despite the fact that both are fine actors, there just doesn't seem to be much chemistry between them.
The problems with this film can mostly be pegged on Meyers (director of "The Parent Trap" remake), who seems to have been timid about taking command of her stars. She indulges Gibson with a Fred Astaire-style dance number in the first reel. She apparently thinks the mere presence of Mel Gibson or Helen Hunt is enough to bring the characters to life. But it's not enough. And the fact that the picture becomes such a pandering celebration of estrogen reduces its appeal to Lifetime Channel level.
Women will certainly enjoy parts of "What Women Want." There's a special depth of comedy I'm sure only the female sex can fully appreciate in watching Gibson squeal in pain while waxing his legs. And Meyers is manipulative enough to pluck the right heartstrings as the romance takes off. But when the credits roll, the movie leaves a hollow feeling inside that just can't be denied. She never makes us truly care about these people enough to love them as a couple and want to see them get their happy ending.
"What Women Want" goes through the motions, then fakes its orgasm.
Run time: 127 mins
In Theaters: Friday 15th December 2000
Box Office USA: $181.5M
Box Office Worldwide: $374.1M
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Production compaines: Paramount Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 2 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 54%
Fresh: 65 Rotten: 56
IMDB: 6.4 / 10
Director: Nancy Meyers
Starring: Helen Hunt as Darcy McGuire, Mel Gibson as Nick Marshall, Marisa Tomei as Lola, Lauren Holly as Gigi, Mark Feuerstein as Morgan Farwell, Alan Alda as Dan Wanamaker, Ashley Johnson as Alexandra Marshall, Delta Burke as Eve, Diana Maria Riva as Stella, Eric Balfour as Cameron, Judy Greer as Erin, Sarah Paulson as Annie, Bette Midler as Dr. J.M. Perkin, Logan Lerman as Young Nick Marshall, Lisa Edelstein as Dina
Also starring: Valerie Perrine
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