What Women Want

What Women Want
Director: Nancy Meyers
Screenplay:Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (story by Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa andDiane 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 inWhat Women Want marks the first time Mel Gibson has played the lead role in astraight romantic comedy. While the more recent entries into the Lethal Weaponfranchise have played like comedies with an extreme body count, Gibson has never been in amovie like this one, which is surprising because he is adept at both physical and verbalcomedy. Perhaps he saw fellow action star Sylvester Stallone slowly destroying his careerwith bad comedic choices like Rhinestone (1984) and Stop! Or My Mom WillShoot (1992) and decided that was not the way to go.

Luckily, Gibson chose a good vehicle as his first comedic foray. What WomenWant uses the fantastical idea that a freak electrical accident endows Nick with theability to hear women's thoughts. The opening moments of the film establish him as adivorced, self-centered, lazy egotistical, bed-hopping, chain-smoking, sexist-joke-tellingabsentee 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 aremade just charming enough to keep the character from being insufferable. Yet, it is madeabundantly 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 beenassuming 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, theadvertisers need to get inside women's heads and find out what makes them tick. This is thelast thing Nick is interested in, as the only reason he would ever want to get inside a woman'shead 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: Nickmight be the only man on earth who knows what women want. "If men are from Mars andwomen are from Venus," she says, "and you speak Venutian..." Nick decides to use thisnewfound ability to his advantage, especially at work where he listens to Darcy's good ideasand, before she can formulate them into words for others to hear, he uses them as his ownand undercuts her authority.

At some point this begins to change. As Nick listens more and more to women's thoughts, hegets more in tune with them. Soon, he is crying at Richard Simmons infomercials, chattingabout relationship problems with the girls at work, taking yoga classes, getting manicures, andbeing more sympathetic to the plight of his budding teenage daughter, Alex (AshleyJohnson), even though he doesn't like her slimy high school senior boyfriend. He alsodevelops 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 pointNick is honest about his feelings for Darcy and when he is simply using her thoughts toadvance his own goals. I think the turning point is when they have had a first date, and in hermind 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 haveexploited immediately (as he did with an emotionally high-strung coffee-shop workerwell-played by Marisa Tomei).

What Women Want was directed by Nancy Meyers, who also directed TheParent Trap (1998) and, with ex-husband Charles Shyer, wrote and producedFather of the Bride (1991). Meyers has a nice sense of comedic rhythm, and she isfairly good at interweaving important issues without becoming didactic. One of the strongestthemes to emerge from the film is the difficulty faced by professional women in the jobmarket. 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 andbe loved without sacrificing her career.

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

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

What WomenWant DVD

AudioDolby DolbyDigital 5.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish(5.1, 2.0), French (2.0)
Supplements Audiocommentary 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

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

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

In the screen-specific audio commentary, director NancyMeyers and production designer Jon Hutman spend a lot of time talking about the set designand 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 builtsome of the sets, especially the fantastic office building where the characters work. Theyalso wax philosophic from time to time about the movie's theme, as well as what it was likeworking with Mel Gibson in his first comedy.

Two featurettes are included, both of which are fairly substantial. The Making of WhatWomen Want focuses more on the production aspect of the movie, with plenty ofbehind-the-scenes footage interspersed with interviews with cast and crew. WhatWomen 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 innonanamorphic widescreen.

©2000, 2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3)

James Kendrick

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