Review: Uncovering What Women Want

Sigmund Freud uncovered many secrets of the human psyche, but he went to the grave asking himself one simple question: What do women want?
So says a psychologist in What Women Want, a witty, if formulaic, romantic comedy about a womaniser whose life is changed when he acquires the ability to read the minds of women. Smart and funny, the film avoids the fragrant clichés of the American romantic comedy until its final act.
Act one: Ad-exec Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) has a twofold approach to women: he charms them into his bed or charms them into getting his coffee, doing his laundry and making his phone calls.
But times are changing, at least at work, where Marshall specialises in obsolescent bikini ads for alcohol, cigarette and car companies. "Women born in the mid-1980s now control advertising dollars," says his boss, who breaks the news that Marshall has been passed over for a promotion in favour of hired gun Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) who is to rope in contracts for female products.

What Women Want

Staring: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt
Running time: 110 minutes
Rating: 7 out of 10
Playing in Bratislava at: Kino Istropolis and Kino Hviezda.

Sigmund Freud uncovered many secrets of the human psyche, but he went to the grave asking himself one simple question: What do women want?

So says a psychologist in What Women Want, a witty, if formulaic, romantic comedy about a womaniser whose life is changed when he acquires the ability to read the minds of women. Smart and funny, the film avoids the fragrant clichés of the American romantic comedy until its final act.

Act one: Ad-exec Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) has a twofold approach to women: he charms them into his bed or charms them into getting his coffee, doing his laundry and making his phone calls.

But times are changing, at least at work, where Marshall specialises in obsolescent bikini ads for alcohol, cigarette and car companies. "Women born in the mid-1980s now control advertising dollars," says his boss, who breaks the news that Marshall has been passed over for a promotion in favour of hired gun Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) who is to rope in contracts for female products.

More inequipped than unwilling to understand women, Marshall spends an evening drinking red wine and experimenting with these products - pantyhose, the wonder bra, even leg wax ("Who would do that more than once?" he gasps). Frustrated and a little drunk, he slips into a full bathtub with a hairdryer, and is electrocuted.

When he wakes the next morning he can hear the thoughts of his cleaning woman, who as it turns out, dislikes him. The women he passes on the way to work are also like open audio books. "One kiss doesn't make me a lesbian." "Did I remember to turn the coffee machine off?" "Should I start taking oestrogen?"

Marshall is aghast, especially since most women think he's a jerk; but a psychologist points out the positive: "If women are from Mars and men are from Venus, and you speak Venutian, you can rule the world." This is, of course, especially helpful for a macho ad exec that must learn to create ads targeting women.

Such an absurd premise could easily have been fleshed out with cheap jokes, but What Women Want, directed by Nancy Meyers, and co-written by two women, finds the right mix of the serious, silly and sexual as Marshall learns he never knew very much about women.

At work he becomes an advice guru for women he had always ignored. He takes a renewed interest in his 15-year old daughter, who makes him wince every time she thinks her father is embarrassing, and nearly knocks the wind out of him at the shopping mall when she thinks, "I can't believe this is the dress I'm going to lose my virginity in."

Marshall moves in on Maguire, planning to upstage her with her own ideas. But what happens is more like teamwork. The pair fall in love, and Marshall, who is by now a changed man, but not exactly the man Maguire thinks he is, is weighed down with guilt. The film loses its charm at this point, and the final scenes in which the conflict is resolved and love prevails play like remakes of a hundred other romantic comedies.

What Women Want's best moment involves Maguire losing her composure as she realises she is staring at Marshall's crotch, and Marshall smiling - not because he realises he can score, but because he was discovering women were human. At that point it was possible to forget the movie was following a tired formula.

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