"What Women Want" hopes to answer the big question that haunted Freud and the rest of his gender: what is with women anyway? What do they want? Mel Gibson stars as Nick Marshall, a chauvinistic lothario who believes all females are there to please him in one way or another.
Nick's very masculine world is turned upside down when he gets electrocuted and can suddenly hear the innermost thoughts of every woman in proximity. This terrifies him once he realizes that most women despise him, including his 15-year-old daughter. In an unaccredited cameo by Bette Midler, a therapist makes him realize that he is probably now the only man on earth with true insight to the female psyche.
Enter Darcy Maguire, played by intelligent babe, Helen Hunt. Darcy just snagged the job that Nick wanted; therefore, it's career sabotage time. Naturally, he falls in love with her instead and blah blah, the usual.
Except, not totally. Both men and women wrote the story and screenplay but the film's last touch was definitely female. Directed by Nancy Meyers, the film lands with a strong, soft hand. Meyers also produced and co-wrote "Private Benjamin" back in Dark Ages of 1980, when silly folks didn't believe that a female lead could open a movie without a male star. This film still has the obligatory layer of cheese that mark all the over-budgeted Hollywood projects but at least there was some good wine with the cheese this time. There's even a lovely little homage to Gene Kelly and plenty of Sinatra songs, typifying the Rat Pack era, when dames were dames.
Once you take away the predictability of the contrived romance, there's plenty of insight and strong characters here. Ashley Johnson plays Nick's sharp daughter, Alex, who sees her father for the cad he is and is starting to experiment with the same kind of man, naturally. See? Freud's in here! Their relationship is tough and she does not cut him any slack. His mind reading doesn't help him much here.
There's a wonderful side performance from Marisa Tomei, as a vulnerable, struggling waitress who tries to resist his charms. Alan Alda is wonderfully himself as Dan, Nick & Darcy's boss and Lauren Holly shows up - although it could have easily been anybody else - as Nick's ex, Gigi.
Horribly and shamefully wasted are Delta Burke and Valerie Perrine as Eve and Margo, Nick's maternal secretaries. They have barely any lines, almost no character development and just sort of stand there. Plus, we never hear any of their thoughts. If anything, their talents ignored just reminded me of the persistent void of good parts for women who are not Helen Hunt, Julia Roberts or Gwynth Paltrow. Grrrrr.
Another side story involves a young girl in the office who is pale and nondescript. Nick had never noticed her and did not know her name but can now hear that she is deeply suicidal. This was an excellent reminder that we may see people every day but never know what's going on with them. Paying attention, sometimes, is a good idea.
There is a great scene when Nick is frantically trying to tell his macho pal, Morgan, played by Mark Feuerstein, about what it's like in a woman's head, the frenzy of fret. Nick's eyes are bulging and he's sweating, "They worry all the time! All the time! About everything!" Yes, well, as I have always said to men who say women are scary and confusing, "That's nothing, you should see it from the inside."
© 2002 - Heather Clisby - Air Date: 12/20/00
What Women Want
USA - 2000