What Women Want

What Women Want
©Icon Entertainment International / Paramount Pictures /
Centropolis Effects / Wind Dancer Productions /
RCV Film Distribution BV, Netherlands

A sudden jolt in the bathtub unexpectedly shoots Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) into a world where he can hear what women think and how women react, which sends him on a pathway hoping to discover what women want. As an executive working for an advertising agency, this concept translates itself, in his mind, into what makes them think they want things that they can ultimately purchase. The new rise in consumer power among women demands a switch from his usual selling angles of beer, bikinis, and babes to a new, as yet undiscovered, approach. His objectives are not noble, motivated as they become by recently losing an upgrade to creative director for the company, but he still has hopes to manipulate his way into a top level spot by reading the mind's of everyone he can use to assist him.

It is incredible that so much acting talent has been propped together in a pretentious film with limited scope. What is perhaps more incredible is that the screenplay (by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa from an original story by Diane Drake) pretends to explore the aptitude of men to define objectivity toward women by developing an awareness of their sensitive "feminine" side. The unfulfilled premise is that they can, in a rewarding manner, become capable of developing fulfilling and meaningful relationships with the opposite sex and, in doing this, realize their full potential as men. By the end of the film all that remains of this noble goal is romantic froth. In order to achieve the film's intention the viewer would have to lose sight of the fact that all the women surrounding the central character react to him according to their own socially acceptable systems of role-playing as previously established in the male-dominated business world.
What Women Want
©Paramount Pictures
Photo courtesy RCV Film Distribution

This world is a man's world, most obviously displayed by the attitude of the company's top director (Alan Alda) whose every move is to "save his ass" even if he preaches the value of women (meaning consumers) in today's world. The women operating within the company go about their daily routine while keeping private thoughts to themselves, that is until their thoughts can be heard. Considering that they are all trapped in a specific behavioral pattern to survive within this male-orientated structure, one can comprehend that it is not solely the fault of the central character that he has remained so insensitive and unaware. His unreceptiveness is only openly commented upon (and without much effect) by his daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson). Is it any wonder that he has carried on merrily for years in his fashion? Many of the women also appear to be helplessly overcome, quite honestly, by his good looks and position. (After all, it is Mel Gibson.) Feminism takes a back seat until a new force in the advertising team arrives in the form of recently appointed boss, Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt), and even her knees tremble at the sight of her male contender. (Although he's dressed, she can't even control a reflex to clock his private parts.) All seems to be acceptable in the masqueraded world of a sex- comedy where the issue is not really sexual equality, liberation, and understanding, but rather finding a funny method for boy to get girl with the girl as the hero of the piece. You don't have to be a mind reader to figure out where things are going to wind up.

Perhaps, in closing, it's best to use the words of Mel Gibson reflecting on an often used quote of director Nancy Meyers, 'Dying is easy, comedy is hard'. And if you're not funny, believe me, you die up there." He may rate this film alongside the work of Lubitsch, Capra and Wilder, but, quite honestly, it just doesn't have the Lubitsch touch.

Bette Midler, with her short and powerful cameo, manages to steal the show as the quick- witted shrink with a proposition that the ad man can't refuse.

© 1994-2006 The Green Hartnett