Films, TV, and Theatre


What Women Want (2000)

Romantic comedy starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt. A womanising, chauvinistic advertising executive wakes up after an accident to find he has the ability to hear women's thoughts.

Stars: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Lauren Holly, and Bette Midler (cameo)
Director: Nancy Meyers

By Jack Garner, Democrat and Chronicle

Puckish humor has long sparked even the most serious Mel Gibson movie roles. In What Women Want, Mel finally cuts loose and launches another option for his maturing years as a movie star.

And Gibson's self-effacing charm and enthusiastic comic style are more than enough to invigorate Nancy Meyers' clever comedy about the battle of the sexes.

The big influence seems to be Cary Grant, though Gibson is also a fan of the baser forms of pratfall comedy. (After all, he recently produced a Three Stooges biopic.)

In What Women Want, Gibson is Nick Marshall, a successful Chicago advertising executive, a guy's guy and ladies' man whose testosterone practically leaks out his ears.

But two events soon turn his man's world topsy-turvy.

First, his boss (Alan Alda) passes over him to hire a hot-shot named Darcy (Helen Hunt) for a corner-office management job. The boss wants this highly regarded veteran to get the agency more in tune with the lucrative female marketplace.

Second, a freak bathtub electrocution leaves Nick with a bizarre ability: He can hear women's thoughts.

Nick is initially aghast -- the cacophony of women's thoughts drive him nuts, and he's also distraut to hear what many of his co-workers really think of him.

But then his shrink (an uncredited Bette Midler) helps him see the benefits of his new ability. Soon, he's using it to seduce a waitress who's long had his eye (Marisa Tomei), to understand his nearly estranged 15-year-old daughter (Ashley Johnson) and, most notably, to get in tune with his agency's new thrust toward the women's market.

For that last task, he literally picks the brain of Darcy, the new boss. Unaware of what he's doing -- or how -- she begins to see him as a smart, simpatico co-worker. But the complications occur when they become attracted to each other.

What Women Want offers the flavor (if not all the polish) of a 1940s screwball romance. Meyers is revisiting this turf, having directed the Steve Martin remake of Father of the Bride, and creates a fertile comic showcase for the eager Gibson.

The narrative isn't always smooth. A few bits seem obvious, the resolution isn't as strong as filmgoers might want, and at 126 minutes, the film is 10 to 15 minutes too long.

Still, the central chemistry between Gibson and Hunt is appealing, and Gibson is genuinely funny.

In the holiday search for a comedic date movie, this film could be justwhat, uh, women want. And a lot of men, too.

Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Cox News Service

Writer/director Nancy Meyers clearly believes she knows what women want. Mel Gibson being romantic. Mel Gibson being a rascal. Mel Gibson being funny. Mel Gibson being sensitive. Mel Gibson with his shirt off.

Well, you get the idea. In her uneven but effective crowd-pleaser, “What Women Want,” she gives us Mel, Mel and more Mel. Oh, and Helen Hunt. Gibson plays Nick Marshall, a pleased-with-himself playboy who calls his housekeeper “babe” and his receptionist “honey.” Nick is in line for a big promotion at his ad agency. But at the last minute, the job goes to new hire Darcy Maguire (Hunt). His boss (Alan Alda) explains that the agency needs to capitalize on an increasingly female-driven market. He likes Nick, but, as he says, “You can get into their [women’s] pants better than anyone I know, but getting into their psyche is something else.”

Then Nick has a freak accident that almost fries him. Instead, he wakes up intact and imbued with the ability to read women’s minds. At first, he’s unnerved, but a visit to shrink Bette Midler helps him see things in a new light. She says, “If you know what women want, you can rule.” Or at least get that job he wanted. He uses his gift to subtly undermine Darcy. But the more he learns about women, the more he learns how to be a man. That is, how to be human.

Meyers herself has said that her film is rooted in the old Rock Hudson/Doris Day romantic comedies. But in a welcome nod to now, Nick initially lust safter Darcy’s office, not her body. The bod he goes for belongs to the vulnerable Marisa Tomei. whose thoughts set him on the road to being a good guy (and a better lover).

“What Women Want” goes awry in much the same way Meyers’ 1987 hit, “Baby Boom” did. It begins with a smart, snappily amusing premise, sustains it for much of the movie, then lapses into a gooey, smiley-face third act. Meyers just can’t leave well enough alone. Nick saves lives, careers, even his daughter’s prom night. And hearing Gibson say “My hero” to Hunt really isn’t what most women want. Worse, it suggests a kind of badge-wearing pseudo-feminism.

That said, “What Women Want” still qualifies as breezy, lightweight entertainment. Gibson, who hasn’t done comedy in a while, is at his most adorable, whether he’s trying to get in touch with his feminine side by waxing his legs or tossing off a spot-on Sean Connery imitation. As for Hunt, it’s nice to see her looking glamorous for a change. She’s best at the beginning when she plays Darcy as a smiling barracuda who swiftly redecorates the conference room into a let’s-share communal space. And while its reassuring and refreshing to see a powerful woman who’s still open to romance, the more involved she becomes with Gibson, the less involved we are with her.

If you’re in the mood for some well-done fluff — with some deft performances and bright dialogue — you could do a lot worse. Granted, it’s a one-joke movie, but on the whole, the joke’s pretty darn good.

Todd McCarthy, Variety

A broad comedy about a man's man who evolves into a woman's man, "What Women Want" boasts an irresistible central conceit that more often than not is used for oafishly boisterous gags and squirm-inducing "sensitive man" wish fulfillment. With a manic Mel Gibson, only now starring in his first romantic comedy, playing an incorrigible seducer who temporarily becomes endowed with the ability to hear women's uncensored thoughts, Nancy Meyers' second directorial outing has sheer energy and audience allure to burn, even if numerous speed bumps cause many of the comic possibilities to go tumbling overboard. Well-upholstered Paramount release is a near-perfect example of a film with heavy appeal to women that men will be willing to go along to as well, a formula that spells heavy B.O. with the mainstream public everywhere.

Usually cast in serious macho roles with the occasional soft streak (as in his most recent action epic, "The Patriot"), Gibson begins clearing a promising path for himself here as an unapologetic womanizer who's never willing to take no for an answer. Playing a man who's cocky, irrepressible, wild, crazy and always hot to trot, Gibson throws himself into even the most preposterous situations with such relish and abandon that the viewer, like most of the women, has little choice but to succumb to him, despite the prankish nature of what he's required to play. As Robert De Niro has shown over the past couple of years, there's a huge upside to developing one's comic potential, and there's no question that Gibson (whose company, after all, produced the recent Three Stooges telepic) could go far in this direction as he graduates from straight leading man status.

Amusingly introduced as the son of a Vegas showgirl who has always enjoyed the fawning attention of beautiful women, Nick Marshall (Gibson) is now a hotshot Chicago ad exec with an ex-wife (Lauren Holly) who's marrying again and a 15-year-old daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson), whose top priority is losing her virginity. Fully expecting a promotion at work, Nick is taken aback when his boss (Alan Alda) informs him that, to help the firm target the all-important young female demographic, he's instead hired the estimable Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) to put their shop back on top.

Asked by Darcy to come up with suggestions for a new, femme-slanted campaign, Nick gets drunk in his penthouse apartment, dances around and immerses himself in what it's like to be a woman by waxing his legs, polishing his nails and trying on pantyhose and a Wonder Bra -- only to be caught in flagrante, so to speak, by an aghast Alex and her b.f. Sequence is shameless, to be sure, but sets off gales of laughter due to the way it plays off of Gibson's ultra-macho image -- and simply because the star is so game.

Episode concludes in the "Twilight Zone"-ish bathroom accident that sets up the big gimmick in Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa's script: To his initial dismay but eventual delight, Nick finds, "I hear what women think." The dismay, as it turns out, is pretty superficial, taking the form of Nick's learning that there are actually some women out there who think he's a jerk. The delight, of course, is much more profound, as a shrink (Bette Midler in an uncredited cameo) for some reason has to explain to him, "If you know what women want, you can rule."

Before long, Nick is putting his advantage to good use at the office, throwing Darcy off-guard by telling her exactly what she's thinking before she has a chance to say it, and by almost literally picking her brain for creative ideas that make him look like a genius. By this method, he figures, he'll make sure that she's out on the street within a month.

Nick's new-found insight and intuition have innumerable other benefits. He's finally able to break down the resistance of vibrant coffee-shop girl Lola (Marisa Tomei) and entice her into a sexual tryst that goes way beyond what she could have imagined, while he also becomes attentive to the plight of office wallflower Erin (Judy Greer), whose depressive, suicidal tendencies would have gone unnoticed without Nick's clairvoyance. And then there's one of the film's funniest gags, in which Nick waits to discern the inner thoughts of his two zaftig assistants (Delta Burke and Valerie Perrine).

Alex, forced to stay at Nick's bachelor pad while Mom is away honeymooning, is initially freaked out by her dad's new and uncomfortable interest in her personal life, although she doesn't object when he offers to take her shopping for a prom dress. Nick's makeover into the model sensitive male is also duly noted by Darcy, who, after all, is one of those high-powered single professional women who knows how lonely it is at the top and needs someone to keep her warm in her lavish new apartment.

At work, Nick triumphs over Darcy, but what an electric jolt giveth, an electric jolt taketh away, and when Nick loses his powers, the film doesn't know what to do other than to come in for a very soft landing and putter to an indifferent stop.

Meyers underlines, boldfaces and italicizes every scene, then applies a high-gloss finish so that no one in the audience could possibly miss a single line, effect or intention. In storytelling terms, pic gets off to a bumpy start, clicks pretty nicely when Nick and Darcy begin to click in the middle stretch, then falls off again. But Gibson seems all but inflated with helium throughout, which contagiously lifts everyone else around him, and Hunt's more earthbound pragmatism plays well off of her co-star's buoyancy. Tomei shoots off some amusingly unpredictable sparks as a woman who finds Nick uniquely probing.

Production designer Jon Hutman lavishes the settings with well-moneyed details that are appreciatively caught by Dean Cundey's silky lensing. Attractive Chicago locations are used to fine effect.