Ric Roman Waugh, 2013
"Is Britney spears on Leno tonight?"
Mel Gibson’s very first romantic comedy is high-profile, clumsy and misguided. It mistreats its characters and leaves audience members with a bad taste in their mouths. Gibson tries hard but it’s all for naught as the movie doesn’t let him become much of a comedic presence. Even the marvelous Helen Hunt is wasted. At one point, Nancy Myers’ film looks like it will hit the exact right note but it bails in favor of a conventional Hollywood ending. The ironically titled What Women Want is barely sufferable while it lasts but after it’s over you realize that it’s taken all the wrong turns.
Nick Marshall (Gibson) is a wealthy, handsome advertising executive. He’s also an arrogant, womanizing, politically incorrect bastard who considers himself superior to everyone around him in every way. He is shocked when he is passed up for a promotion in favor of (gasp!) a woman named Darcy McGuire (Hunt). She is put in charge of putting their company on the map when it comes to marketing women’s products. To speed things along, she gives everyone a package full of women’s products and tells them to go home, brainstorm and come back the next day with ideas.
Thoroughly disgruntled, Marshall goes home, gets a little tipsy and decides to try out some of those feminine accessories for himself. We’re then treated to a less-than-lovely image of Gibson waxing his legs before tripping and falling into a bathtub, plugged-in hairdryer in hand. After coming to his senses, he realizes that the electrocution gave him the most bizarre of gifts: the ability to hear what women are thinking. Everything women are thinking.
At first, it’s at best a mixed blessing: the thoughts around him are deafening and he is unpleasantly surprised to find out the opinions women have about him. But then he learns to harness this power and use it to his advantage: romantically, sexually and professionally. It presents him with the perfect opportunity to shove Darcy out of the way and get that promotion he’s been looking for. You think he might fall for her in the process?
The high concept of What Women Want is interesting; its tragic flaw is in its main character. The plot requires him to transform from a jerk into a decent guy. The problem, though, is that his relative states are grossly exaggerated to the point where it’s impossible to take the movie even a little bit seriously. How could someone as utterly repulsive as the Nick Marshall in the beginning of the movie ever make it as far in the corporate ladder as he has? Why do people socialize with him at all? Shouldn’t he be a loner? These are the kinds of questions we aren’t supposed to ask, I know, but the film’s plot almost forces them on us with its blatant insinuations that Marshall is going to change any minute now.
Marshall does unforgivable things with his newfound talent, unethical by any moral standard and so conniving that his actions get Darcy fired. And for a while, I thought that Myers’ film may be heading in the right direction and yet the ending is a Screen Kiss. Great. Oh, perfect. It’s been a while since an ending has left me this pissed off. Nick’s an abominable character and he doesn’t deserve the likes of Darcy; we know that, Myers knows that and we get the feeling they know that as well. So why have them kiss and make up? Why not pull a My Best Friend’s Wedding and have Marshall learn his lesson? Is it required for every romantic comedy to end on a happy he’s-okay-she’s-okay note? Had this movie stayed true to its characters instead of dragging them towards a phony, obligatory happy ending, it might have inspired less cringes.
Gibson will undoubtedly pack ‘em in at the box office and Hunt is her luminous self yet again (not showing any signs of fatigue, I might add, from starring in four movies in one year) but What Women Want is taken out of their hands. There’s not much you can do with a script that mangles its main character beyond all hope.
-- Eugene Novikov
|Starring:||Ashley Johnson, Alan Alda, Marisa Tomei, Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt|
|Directed by:||Nancy Meyers|