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What Women Want
Director: Nancy Meyers
Screenplay: Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (story by Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa and Diane Drake)
Stars: Mel Gibson (Nick Marshall), Helen Hunt (Darcy Maguire), Marisa Tomei (Lola), Ashley Johnson (Alex), Lauren Holly (Gigi), Alan Alda (Dan Wanamaker)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Year of Release: 2000
Country: USA
What Women Want Poster

Playing Nick Marshall, the wealthy, successful, male-chauvinist Chicago ad executive in What Women Want marks the first time Mel Gibson has played the lead role in a straight romantic comedy. While the more recent entries into the Lethal Weapon franchise have played like comedies with an extreme body count, Gibson has never been in a movie like this one, which is surprising because he is adept at both physical and verbal comedy. Perhaps he saw fellow action star Sylvester Stallone slowly destroying his career with bad comedic choices like Rhinestone (1984) and Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot (1992) and decided that was not the way to go.

Luckily, Gibson chose a good vehicle as his first comedic foray. What Women Want uses the fantastical idea that a freak electrical accident endows Nick with the ability to hear women's thoughts. The opening moments of the film establish him as a divorced, self-centered, lazy egotistical, bed-hopping, chain-smoking, sexist-joke-telling absentee dad who treats his maid like dirt and can't keep his eyes off any woman he walks by. Of course, because Nick is played by Mel Gibson, all of these negative character traits are made just charming enough to keep the character from being insufferable. Yet, it is made abundantly clear that Nick is a man who could use a little work.

Things start going badly for him when he learns that the creative director job he had been assuming was his for the taking is given instead to a woman, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt), who has the reputation of being a "man eater." The president of the ad agency (Alan Alda) explains to Nick that women now drive the marketplace, and the kind of showy, young-male-oriented T&A advertising in which Nick excels is no longer enough. Instead, the advertisers need to get inside women's heads and find out what makes them tick. This is the last thing Nick is interested in, as the only reason he would ever want to get inside a woman's head is to figure out how to get her in bed.

This all changes once Nick begins to hear what women think. He first views this as a curse, until a marriage counselor (Bette Midler) notes that this could be the ultimate blessing: Nick might be the only man on earth who knows what women want. "If men are from Mars and women are from Venus," she says, "and you speak Venutian..." Nick decides to use this newfound ability to his advantage, especially at work where he listens to Darcy's good ideas and, before she can formulate them into words for others to hear, he uses them as his own and undercuts her authority.

At some point this begins to change. As Nick listens more and more to women's thoughts, he gets more in tune with them. Soon, he is crying at Richard Simmons infomercials, chatting about relationship problems with the girls at work, taking yoga classes, getting manicures, and being more sympathetic to the plight of his budding teenage daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson), even though he doesn't like her slimy high school senior boyfriend. He also develops a close working relationship with Darcy that inevitably turns to romance.

This aspect of the film is somewhat problematic because it is difficult to know at what point Nick is honest about his feelings for Darcy and when he is simply using her thoughts to advance his own goals. I think the turning point is when they have had a first date, and in her mind she is debating whether or not to ask him back to her place, and he quickly tells her "good night," thus negating a possible sexual encounter that earlier in the film he would have exploited immediately (as he did with an emotionally high-strung coffee-shop worker well-played by Marisa Tomei).

What Women Want was directed by Nancy Meyers, who also directed The Parent Trap (1998) and, with ex-husband Charles Shyer, wrote and produced Father of the Bride (1991). Meyers has a nice sense of comedic rhythm, and she is fairly good at interweaving important issues without becoming didactic. One of the strongest themes to emerge from the film is the difficulty faced by professional women in the job market. This is expressed through Darcy's dilemma of needing to be aggressive and assertive, while wanting to be seen for who she really is: a decent human being who wants to love and be loved without sacrificing her career.

Having a woman direct the film was a good idea because Meyers keeps it from becoming a one-man Mel Gibson show. Yes, he is the main character and he appears in every scene, but Meyers and screenwriters Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa use him as a vehicle to explore other characters. We never hear what Nick is thinking, but we do hear the innermost personal thoughts of Darcy, which turns her into an endearing character. We get to see that what she thinks and what she says are often in complete contrast to one another, and it points up how happy facial expressions often mask unhappy thoughts. This also leads to a number of subplots involving other women in Nick's life (perhaps a few too many; Nick has no less than three major crises to solve in the last 20 minutes, including a distracting subplot about saving a suicidal file clerk).

What Women Want is certainly funny and entertaining, but it also strikes at some deeper truths about the contemporary state of male-female relationships. The title suggests that you may come away knowing exactly what women want, which is both true and misleading. The movie ultimately suggests that women want exactly what any human being wants: to be successful and loved at the same time for being the same person. While this may ultimately be too simplistic a summation of human desire, it is a good starting place.

What Women Want DVD

Widescreen1.85:1
AnamorphicYes
AudioDolby Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish (5.1, 2.0), French (2.0)
SubtitlesEnglish
Supplements Audio commentary by director Nancy Meyers and production designer Jon Hutman
The Making of What Women Want featurette
What Women Want: A Look Inside featurette
Two original theatrical trailers
DistributorParamount Pictures
SRP$29.99

VIDEO
The anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1) transfer of What Women Want is virtually flawless. Razor-sharp with lifelike colors and a complete absence of any artifacts or dirt, it looks beautiful. After listening to the audio commentary, I gained a new appreciation for the incredible set design featured in the movie, and the transfer presents it in the kind of stunning detail that makes you want to hit the pause button from time to time and just admire it. The complexity and clutter of the set design provides plenty of opportunities for artifacts, but this transfer avoids them almost completely (there is a slight shimmer from time to time on horizontal venetian blinds, but not much else).

AUDIO
The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround soundtrack is likewise solid. There isn't much opportunity for sound effects, but the soundtrack is creative in the way it presents the disembodied voices that represent women's thoughts by having them feel removed enough from the physical action that you can sense they are thoughts, but not so removed that they feel disconnected. The soundtrack is also replete with a combination of contemporary pop songs and old standards by Frank Sinatra (including two favorites, "I Won't Dance" and "I've Got You Under My Skin"), all of which sound excellent.

SUPPLEMENTS
In the screen-specific audio commentary, director Nancy Meyers and production designer Jon Hutman spend a lot of time talking about the set design and visual look of the film, something that is often overlooked in non-period movies, especially romantic comedies. You'll be surprised to find out how they designed and built some of the sets, especially the fantastic office building where the characters work. They also wax philosophic from time to time about the movie's theme, as well as what it was like working with Mel Gibson in his first comedy.

Two featurettes are included, both of which are fairly substantial. The Making of What Women Want focuses more on the production aspect of the movie, with plenty of behind-the-scenes footage interspersed with interviews with cast and crew. What Women Want: A Look Inside, on the other hand, is much more interview-oriented.

Lastly, the disc contains two original theatrical trailers, both of which are presented in nonanamorphic widescreen.

Overall Rating: (3)




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