Sigmund Freud once pondered the question of what women want. Well, if it's People magazine's sexiest man of the year (vintage 1985) Mel Gibson, they are in luck. In the romantic comedy called appropriately enough WHAT WOMEN WANT, Gibson plays a male chauvinist advertising executive who has a freak accident that leaves him with the ability to literally hear the thoughts of every female with whom he comes in contact. Sounds promising, no?
Well, in execution, it's an okay concoction, sort of like TOOTSIE without the drag. The basic problem is that Gibson's character of Nick Marshall is such a smug, disgusting person, it's not believable he would have been on the executive track. I know that advertising is still somewhat Of an "old boys" network, but the rude, sexist comments Marshall is shown making in today's workplace would have engendered a host of lawsuits (for sexual harassment and contributing to a hostile work environment). I know. I know. It's only a movie, and he's being set up as such so his transformation has resonance, but if the character is unbelievable from the start, the whole premise falls apart.
Nick Marshall is supposedly on the fast track to a promotion until the company's board decides that women consumers are being overlooked and opt to hire Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) from a rival firm. Again, the casting proves fatal. Darcy is built up as a sort of man-eating dragon lady, a bitch on wheels. Whether she was unable or unwilling to depict such a female, Hunt projects a lightness and sweetness that flies in the face of the character's reputation. Instead of projecting the brittleness she brought to her role in DR. T AND THE WOMEN the actress falls back on her TV persona, perhaps because this film purports to be an out-and-out romantic comedy. (A further nail is the distinct lack of romantic chemistry between the two leads.)
Director Nancy Meyers has to be held accountable for the film's faults. While the screenplay is credited to real-life unmarried couple Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa (writers for the TV sitcom King of Queens), Meyers reportedly did a complete rewrite, although the Writers' Guild rejected her request for an on screen credit. Her efforts are far from entertaining (there are a couple of offensive "gay" joke, among other transgressions) but the cardinal sins are twofold: much of the action is neither romantic nor comic, and the talents of many fine performers are profligately squandered.
Marisa Tomei continues to struggle to find another film role worthy of her talents and is here underused as an aspiring actress with self-esteem issues who falls for Gibson's smooth talker. Lauren Holly barely registers as Gibson's ex-wife while Valerie Perrine and Delta Burke are totally wasted as Gibson's vacuous personal assistants. Even Alan Alda as the agency's head appears to be just collecting a paycheck.
WHAT WOMEN WANT is a conventional but bland movie. All I can say is that if this movie is indeed what women want, the world is in a much more tenuous place than I ever imagined.
Rating: D MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content and language Running time: 127 mins.