×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

What Women Want

A broad comedy about a man's man who evolves into a woman's man, "What Women Want" boasts an irresistible central conceit that more often than not is used for oafishly boisterous gags and squirm-inducing "sensitive man" wish fulfillment. With a manic Mel Gibson, only now starring in his first romantic comedy, playing an incorrigible seducer who temporarily becomes endowed with the ability to hear women's uncensored thoughts, Nancy Meyers' second directorial outing has sheer energy and audience allure to burn, even if numerous speed bumps cause many of the comic possibilities to go tumbling overboard. Well-upholstered Paramount release is a near-perfect example of a film with heavy appeal to women that men will be willing to go along to as well, a formula that spells heavy B.O. with the mainstream public everywhere.

With:
Nick Marshall - Mel Gibson Darcy Maguire - Helen Hunt Lola - Marisa Tomei Morgan Farwell - Mark Feuerstein Gigi - Lauren Holly Alex Marshall - Ashley Johnson Erin - Judy Greer Dan Wanamaker - Alan Alda Eve - Delta Burke Margo - Valerie Perrine Dina - Lisa Edelstein Annie - Sarah Paulson

A broad comedy about a man’s man who evolves into a woman’s man, “What Women Want” boasts an irresistible central conceit that more often than not is used for oafishly boisterous gags and squirm-inducing “sensitive man” wish fulfillment. With a manic Mel Gibson, only now starring in his first romantic comedy, playing an incorrigible seducer who temporarily becomes endowed with the ability to hear women’s uncensored thoughts, Nancy Meyers’ second directorial outing has sheer energy and audience allure to burn, even if numerous speed bumps cause many of the comic possibilities to go tumbling overboard. Well-upholstered Paramount release is a near-perfect example of a film with heavy appeal to women that men will be willing to go along to as well, a formula that spells heavy B.O. with the mainstream public everywhere.

Usually cast in serious macho roles with the occasional soft streak (as in his most recent action epic, “The Patriot”), Gibson begins clearing a promising path for himself here as an unapologetic womanizer who’s never willing to take no for an answer. Playing a man who’s cocky, irrepressible, wild, crazy and always hot to trot, Gibson throws himself into even the most preposterous situations with such relish and abandon that the viewer, like most of the women, has little choice but to succumb to him, despite the prankish nature of what he’s required to play. As Robert De Niro has shown over the past couple of years, there’s a huge upside to developing one’s comic potential, and there’s no question that Gibson (whose company, after all, produced the recent Three Stooges telepic) could go far in this direction as he graduates from straight leading man status.

Amusingly introduced as the son of a Vegas showgirl who has always enjoyed the fawning attention of beautiful women, Nick Marshall (Gibson) is now a hotshot Chicago ad exec with an ex-wife (Lauren Holly) who’s marrying again and a 15-year-old daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson), whose top priority is losing her virginity. Fully expecting a promotion at work, Nick is taken aback when his boss (Alan Alda) informs him that, to help the firm target the all-important young female demographic, he’s instead hired the estimable Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt) to put their shop back on top.

Asked by Darcy to come up with suggestions for a new, femme-slanted campaign, Nick gets drunk in his penthouse apartment, dances around and immerses himself in what it’s like to be a woman by waxing his legs, polishing his nails and trying on pantyhose and a Wonder Bra — only to be caught in flagrante, so to speak, by an aghast Alex and her b.f. Sequence is shameless, to be sure, but sets off gales of laughter due to the way it plays off of Gibson’s ultra-macho image — and simply because the star is so game.

Episode concludes in the “Twilight Zone”-ish bathroom accident that sets up the big gimmick in Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa’s script: To his initial dismay but eventual delight, Nick finds, “I hear what women think.” The dismay, as it turns out, is pretty superficial, taking the form of Nick’s learning that there are actually some women out there who think he’s a jerk. The delight, of course, is much more profound, as a shrink (Bette Midler in an uncredited cameo) for some reason has to explain to him, “If you know what women want, you can rule.”

Before long, Nick is putting his advantage to good use at the office, throwing Darcy off-guard by telling her exactly what she’s thinking before she has a chance to say it, and by almost literally picking her brain for creative ideas that make him look like a genius. By this method, he figures, he’ll make sure that she’s out on the street within a month.

Nick’s new-found insight and intuition have innumerable other benefits. He’s finally able to break down the resistance of vibrant coffee-shop girl Lola (Marisa Tomei) and entice her into a sexual tryst that goes way beyond what she could have imagined, while he also becomes attentive to the plight of office wallflower Erin (Judy Greer), whose depressive, suicidal tendencies would have gone unnoticed without Nick’s clairvoyance. And then there’s one of the film’s funniest gags, in which Nick waits to discern the inner thoughts of his two zaftig assistants (Delta Burke and Valerie Perrine).

Alex, forced to stay at Nick’s bachelor pad while Mom is away honeymooning, is initially freaked out by her dad’s new and uncomfortable interest in her personal life, although she doesn’t object when he offers to take her shopping for a prom dress. Nick’s makeover into the model sensitive male is also duly noted by Darcy, who, after all, is one of those high-powered single professional women who knows how lonely it is at the top and needs someone to keep her warm in her lavish new apartment.

At work, Nick triumphs over Darcy, but what an electric jolt giveth, an electric jolt taketh away, and when Nick loses his powers, the film doesn’t know what to do other than to come in for a very soft landing and putter to an indifferent stop.

Meyers underlines, boldfaces and italicizes every scene, then applies a high-gloss finish so that no one in the audience could possibly miss a single line, effect or intention. In storytelling terms, pic gets off to a bumpy start, clicks pretty nicely when Nick and Darcy begin to click in the middle stretch, then falls off again. But Gibson seems all but inflated with helium throughout, which contagiously lifts everyone else around him, and Hunt’s more earthbound pragmatism plays well off of her co-star’s buoyancy. Tomei shoots off some amusingly unpredictable sparks as a woman who finds Nick uniquely probing.

Production designer Jon Hutman lavishes the settings with well-moneyed details that are appreciatively caught by Dean Cundey’s silky lensing. Attractive Chicago locations are used to fine effect.

Popular on Variety

What Women Want

Production: A Paramount release of a Paramount Pictures and Icon Prods. presentation of an Icon/Wind Dancer production. Produced by Nancy Meyers, Bruce Davey, Matt Williams, Susan Cartsonis, Gina Matthews. Executive producers, Stephen McEveety, David McFadzean, Carmen Finestra. Co-producer, Bruce Block. Directed by Nancy Meyers. Screenplay, Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa; story, Goldsmith, Yuspa, Diane Drake.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color), Dean Cundey; editors, Stephen A. Rotter, Thomas J. Nordberg; music, Alan Silvestri; music supervisor, Bonnie Greenberg-Goodman; production designer, Jon Hutman; art directors, Gae Buckley, Tony Fanning; set designers, John Goldsmith, Andrew Menzies, Easton Smith, Patrick Sullivan, Beck Taylor, John Warnke; set decorator, Rosemary Bradenburg; costume designer, Ellen Mirojnick; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), David Macmillan; supervising sound editor, Dennis Drummond; assistant director, K.C. Colwell; second unit director, Bruce Block; second unit camera, Raymond Stella; casting, Howard Feuer, Deborah Aquila. Reviewed at Paramount Studios, L.A., Dec. 3, 2000. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 126 MIN.

With: Nick Marshall - Mel Gibson Darcy Maguire - Helen Hunt Lola - Marisa Tomei Morgan Farwell - Mark Feuerstein Gigi - Lauren Holly Alex Marshall - Ashley Johnson Erin - Judy Greer Dan Wanamaker - Alan Alda Eve - Delta Burke Margo - Valerie Perrine Dina - Lisa Edelstein Annie - Sarah Paulson

More Film

  • Zombieland Double Tap

    Why Emma Stone Was Haunted by Fear of Vomiting While Shooting 'Zombieland: Double Tap'

    SPOILER ALERT: The following story contains a slight spoiler for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” The zombie slayers are back! Ten years after Emma Stone, Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg and Abigail Breslin first killed dead people walking in “Zombieland,” they’ve reunited for “Zombieland: Double Tap.” “You take stock of your life a little bit,” Stone says of [...]

  • Hereditary

    The Best Horror Films to Stream Right Now

    Good horror movies aren’t always easy to scare up, but with Halloween on the horizon, Variety has compiled a list of some of the best horror films available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. NETFLIX Apostle Cult horror meets religious hypocrisy in this creepy gothic thriller, which follows prodigal son Thomas Richardson, who returns home [...]

  • Brett Gelman

    'Stranger Things' Star Brett Gelman Joins Michael B. Jordan in 'Without Remorse'

    Brett Gelman, best known for his scene-stealing roles in “Fleabag,” “Stranger Things” and “Love,” has joined Michael B. Jordan in Paramount’s adaptation of Tom Clancy’s “Without Remorse.” Jamie Bell and Jodie Turner-Smith are also on board. Jordan is starring as operations officer John Clark, also known as John Terrence Kelly, a former Navy SEAL who [...]

  • US director Francis Ford Coppola holds

    Francis Ford Coppola Honored With Prestigious Lumiere Prize by Thierry Fremaux, Bong Joon Ho

    Francis Ford Coppola took the stage to claim the Lumière Festival’s lifetime achievement honor, the Lumière Prize, in a stirring celebration that marked the festival’s 10th edition on Friday night in Lyon, France. The four-time Academy Award winner accepted the prize after a series of video tributes, musical performances and testimonials from family, friends and [...]

  • 'Human Capital' Sells to Vertical Entertainment,

    Liev Schreiber, Maya Hawke's 'Human Capital' Sells Rights to DirecTV, Vertical Entertainment (EXCLUSIVE)

    Vertical Entertainment and DirecTV have jointly acquired the North American distribution rights to “Human Capital,” an official selection of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival from director Marc Meyers. The film stars Oscar winner Marisa Tomei, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, and Maya Hawke. The ensemble drama follows numerous interconnected stories surrounding a hit and run, [...]

  • Robert Zemeckis

    Robert Zemeckis in Talks to Direct Live-Action 'Pinocchio' for Disney (EXCLUSIVE)

    Robert Zemeckis is in early talks to direct Disney’s live-action “Pinocchio.” Andrew Miano and Chris Weitz will produce through their company Depth of Field with Weitz penning the script. “Paddington” director Paul King had originally been tapped to direct but had to leave the project for unknown reasons at the beginning of the year. David [...]

  • Taron Egerton Elton John Rocketman Live

    Elton John and Taron Egerton Duet at 'Rocketman' Awards Season Event at the Greek Theatre

    “Rocketman” has officially launched into awards season. Paramount hosted a screening of the film with a live-performance of the score by the Hollywood Symphony Orchestra and a headlining performance by Elton John and the film’s star Taron Egerton. John and Egerton — who is in contention for best actor for his portrayal of the singer [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content