28 January 2001 | Movie-12
Charming and amusingly funny. Gibson and Hunt are a cute couple--but a bad ending. *** (out of four)
WHAT WOMEN WANT / (2000) *** (out of four) By Blake French:
In the year 2000 alone, Mel Gibson portrayed a colonial-times rebel in "The Patriot," arrogant poultry in "Chicken Run," and now a hotshot chauvinist in Nancy Meyers' new romantic comedy "What Women Want." Mel Gibson has slick, suave charm and electric charisma in the role of a self-confident advertising executive. All of his seemingly natural talents combine to create a funny, entertaining character named Nick Marshall. The adorable Helen Hunt has the same amiable traits as her irresistible co-star as she lights up the screen with a gentle personality and glowing elegance. With a respectable supporting cast, including Marisa Tommei, Alan Alda, Lauren Holly, and Bette Midler, it is hard to imagine how "What
Women Want" could have failed to entertain audiences.
Nick Marshal obviously does not know what women want. He was raised as a testosterone-based bachelor, with the idea that he is the world's gift to all females. As a rich executive on the verge of a big promotion from his boss, Dan Wanamaker (Alan Alda), he is not pleased when a young, ambitious woman named Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) gets the position instead of him. To make matters worse for Nick, his ex-wife (Lauren Holly) has just remarried, leaving him their somewhat rebellious fifteen year old daughter for two weeks, and his attempts to bed a coffee shop employee named Lola (Marisa Tomei) are continuing to fail.
Everything changes for Nick after he experiences an accidental electrical shock that leaves him with the ability to read the minds of any female person. He abruptly pays a visit to his former marriage counselor (Bette Midler) who wakes him up on his unique gift that could be used to his advantage. He immediately takes charge of his new gift; it is interesting, funny, and always amusing to witness his reactions to women's personal thoughts and desires. The screenwriters take full use of the comic material, and use it selectively and wisely; the humor never gets in the way of the movie's message about a modern-day ladies man. By the end of the movie, Nick is a much better person than he was at the beginning of the story.
"What Women Want" is written with a sharp edge; the dialogue is poignant and sassy, the characters are witty, sexy, and often hilarious. However, there is also a positively sweet sentiment holding all of the material together and helping the story flow smoothly. There is plenty of effective comic content here, naturally revolving around Nick's ability to read the women's minds. The movie also develops Gibson's character well, and the lessons he learns about women are never too preachy or emotional to turn audiences off to the light-hearted humor. I also liked the unique direction by Nancy Meyers, whose style is keen and slick, sometimes taking the point of view of the woman in focus, allowing us to experience a variety of perspectives. She and writers Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa provide the leads with a lot of juicy material, and they take advantage of it all.
"What Women Want" falls into the usual pattern of concluding in a conventionally sweet, happy ending. The final romantic sequence feels contrived and unconvincing, unsettling, like a meet cute during a disappointing finally. Even the smiling faces of Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson cannot save a conclusion that is confusing and perplexing. After the movie, I asked a handful of audience members of their interpretation on the closing, and I got a handful of different responses, only one actually cleared up the whole situation for me. What a umbrage to a generally enjoyable romantic comedy.