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Should I Watch..? 'What Women Want' (2000)

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online since 2004.

Film's poster

Film's poster

What's the Big Deal?

What Women Want is a romantic comedy film released in 2000, and it was directed by rom-com specialist Nancy Meyers. The film depicts a sleazy advertising executive who mysteriously gains the power to hear women's thoughts and his attempts to manipulate those around him with his new take on the world. The film stars Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Mark Feuerstein and Ashley Johnson. The film received a fairly muted response from critics, although Gibson did receive praise in the lead role for his performance. Despite this, the film proved popular at the box office (as Meyers' films often do) with global takings in excess of $374 million. It also spawned remakes in China and India before being loosely remade as What Men Want in 2019, which reversed the gender roles in the film with Taraji P. Henson in the lead role.

Forgettable

What's It About?

Chauvinist Nick Marshall has become a successful advertising executive in Chicago, having escaped his upbringing at the hands of his Vegas showgirl mother. Due to his success selling male-orientated products, Nick fully expects to be promoted at his firm Sloane Curtis. To his horror, his manager Dan instead brings in Darcy McGuire and insists on trying to broaden the firm's appeal to include women. Darcy immediately introduces a number of feminine products and tasks her team including Nick with coming up with some ideas. Nick is sadly unable to find any peace at home either - his teenage daughter Alex is staying with him while his ex-wife Gigi is away on her honeymoon with her new husband. To make matters worse, Nick embarrasses Alex in front of her boyfriend Cameron which makes things super awkward.

One night, Nick accidentally falls into a bath with his electric hairdryer and is knocked unconscious while suffering an electric shock. The next morning, he is astonished to find that he can suddenly hear the innermost thoughts of every woman he encounters. Learning that nobody in the office really likes him, Nick decides to use this power to his advantage and begins manipulating those around him including stealing Darcy's ideas and claiming them for himself. But what Nick doesn't expect is that his new-found perspective opens up the world in a way he hadn't seen before and he finds himself slowly falling for Darcy - who is in danger of being shown the door after Nick's scheming.

Trailer

What's to Like?

If you're familiar with any of Meyers' other films like the highly regarded Something's Gotta Give then you'll probably know what to expect here: a light and fluffy tale about a loathsome man finding redemption through the love of a woman who deserves better. And sure enough, that's precisely what the film is. Ignoring the conceit of the central premise for a moment, What Women Want is an odd blend of gender-bending comedy and feminist representation. Seeing Gibson getting in touch with his feminine side is amusing for a time but he deserves credit for downplaying his usual tough-guy persona. And the film occasionally delves into a number of issues that women deal with on a daily basis - resentment of their competition, the consequences of dealing with a sexist boss, the constant harassment from men and such like. It doesn't spend too long dealing with these serious matters though, because who finds such things funny?

Unfortunately, this never gets fully explored because the film spends an inordinate amount of time depicting women as either sex-starved manhunters, catty rivals or neurotic messes. Surely women are more complicated than that? It's almost as though the film was produced by a bunch of hen-pecked husbands in the 1960s, despite the presence of Meyers in the director's chair. It's hard to tell whether she's intentionally mocking this portrayal of female characters or whether the film was edited out of her control by the sort of chauvinists the film is attempting to satirise. Maybe it's harking back to classic battle-of-the-sexes comedies like His Girl Friday but if so, the film badly misses the mark. As it is, the film is a well-intentioned and whimsical rom-com that unfortunately doesn't translate that well on screen.

Seeing Gibson endure the punishing beauty regime women have to go through is briefly amusing but that's about as insightful as this film really gets.

Seeing Gibson endure the punishing beauty regime women have to go through is briefly amusing but that's about as insightful as this film really gets.

Fun Facts

  • This film is believed to be the first to mention the popular online auction site, eBay which was only founded in 1995. Bette Milder, who appears uncredited as Nick's therapist, mentions the website when thinking about her lamp.
  • This is one of two films released in 2000 that feature Mel Gibson and Logan Lerman playing linked characters. In this film, Lerman plays a younger version of Gibson's character while in The Patriot, he plays one of Gibson's sons.
  • During the scene where Nick waxes his legs in the bathroom, Gibson genuinely did wax his legs although it didn't hurt him as much as he portrays in the film. He then began taunting the women on set, saying "Come on, this doesn't hurt at all!" As someone else who has also had his legs waxed (for charity, I might add), I can confirm that it does indeed hurt!
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What's Not to Like?

I'll start with the central premise which is weaker than your nan's cup of tea. The possibilities for storytelling are practically endless but the film is content enough to stick to being a predictable (if left-field) romantic comedy. Speaking of which, it is apparent from the start that Nick is quite an unlikeable character so why does the film have us rooting for him? Sure, he slowly starts to see the error of his ways but not before exploiting those around him such as Tomei's waitress and his other female co-workers. It feels as though he begrudgingly learns his lesson, almost as if the filmmakers wanted to keep him an asshole for the duration of the movie. Imagine if Ebenezer Scrooge turned back into a grumpy old man the day after Christmas in A Christmas Carol - that's how I picture Nick after the cameras have gone and his life goes back to normal.

I've already discussed the total lack of insight into the female psychology in the film with most interactions reduced to the three moods I mentioned earlier. I wanted some depth to proceedings because I simply can't believe that all women think like this. The film feels even more out-dated these days within the climate of the #MeToo movement and the long-overdue push for more female representation both on and behind the silver screen. There are other issues such as the overall lack of any consistency in the amount of comedy seen - I couldn't recall a single memorable scene besides Gibson waxing his legs and nothing that gave me a good belly laugh. The whole thing felt cheap, unsatisfying and artificial like a meal deal at that dodgy burger place you're not sure about. All parties involved - Gibson, Hunt, Meyers, even the supporting cast - can and should do much better.

Both Gibson (left) and Hunt (right) deserve better than this which is as out-dated and sexist as Gibson's character... in the film, anyway.

Both Gibson (left) and Hunt (right) deserve better than this which is as out-dated and sexist as Gibson's character... in the film, anyway.

Should I Watch It?

I know rom-coms get a bad reputation and there may will be an audience out there for something like What Women Want. But I'm afraid that I'm not interested in seeing this again. It felt out of date even at the time but these days, it feels like an unpleasant reminder of how much work needs to be done in Hollywood and cinema in general to eliminate gender bias. It's quirky, I'll give it that but like so many others, this is a romantic comedy which is light on the laughs and unconvincing with the chemistry.

Great For: sparking debate, misogynists, very forgiving viewers

Not So Great For: new couples, romantics, viewers patiently waiting for the next Lethal Weapon sequel

What Else Should I Watch?

There's no doubt that Meyers' best film to date is Something's Gotta Give, a traditional romantic comedy featuring Jack Nicholson in scintillating form as a sixty-something playboy who discovers his soul mate in the unlikely form of Diane Keaton's divorced playwright. Meyers often features characters from the more experienced side of life, repeating the trick less successfully in 2009's It's Complicated featuring Meryl Streep bouncing between her ex husband Alec Baldwin and an architect played by Steve Martin. Like most of Meyers films, the film works best as a formula piece - a crowd-pleasing effort that maybe doesn't quite explore all the avenues it could.

Gibson has been a leading man ever since he strode out from the dusty Australian desert in the original Mad Max. From romantic roles in films like Forever Young to full-throttle action parts in the acclaimed Lethal Weapon series to historical epics like Braveheart, Gibson has long been popular with both male and female audiences until his career slowed down in the wake of his well-documented personal issues. Since his comeback, he has been mainly seen in supporting roles and the same straight-to-DVD purgatory that Bruce Willis finds himself in these days. By contrast, Hunt's career continues to go from strength to strength. After her breakthrough appearance in the 1997 action thriller Twister, she would appear in another excellent rom-com the same year alongside the aforementioned Jack Nicholson - As Good As It Gets. She's also found success more recently in The Sessions playing sex surrogate and public speaker Cheryl Cohen-Greene during her relationship with disabled poet Mark O'Brien. It's just a pity that her best known role came in Nineties sitcom Mad About You opposite Paul Reiser.

Main Cast

ActorRole

Mel Gibson

Nick Marshall

Helen Hunt

Darcy McGuire

Marisa Tomei

Lola

Alan Alda

Dan Wanamaker

Ashley Johnson

Alex Marshall

Mark Feuerstein

Morgan Farwell

Lauren Holly

Gigi

Judy Greer

Erin

Technical Info

DirectorNancy Meyers

Screenplay

Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa & Diane Drake

Running Time

127 minutes

Release Date (UK)

2nd February, 2001

Rating

12

Genre

Comedy, Fantasy, Romance

© 2022 Benjamin Cox

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