From the archives of Paris Woman Journal

What Women Want (2000)

Cast: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Alan Alda, Marisa Tomei, Lauren Holly, Bette Midler, Ashley Johnson, Judy Greer, Mark Feuerstein, Sarah Paulson, Ana Gasteyer.
Screenplay: Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa.
Director: Nancy Myers
** out of *****

Actresses have complained for years about the lack of quality roles for women. Most big studio films emphasize action and are made by and for men. If there's a place for women in these testosterone driven scenarios, it's usually a secondary one as the hero's wife or girlfriend. If you expect something different from a film called What Women Want, you'd be disappointed. A woman directed it, but it stars Mel Gibson. What gender do you think it's about?

What Women Want is about a man, of course. To be specific, it's about a "man's man," described in the opening scenes as "the leader of the pack…a man who just doesn't get what women are about." The man in question is Nick Marshall (Gibson), an advertising executive in line for a promotion to creative director. Successful and admired, especially by men who envy his way with the women, Nick is a shoe-in but for one thing. As his boss (Alan Alda) tells him, women now control the economy. A man's man like Nick is no longer ideal in an era in which advertising is directed primarily at women.

The job Nick covets goes instead to a new hire, Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt), whose reputation as a "bitch on wheels" precedes her. Darcy wastes no time in setting a new feminized agenda for the agency. She passes out bras, mascara, pantyhose, and other feminine products to her staff and suggests they think about how they would market them.

Back home, with Frank Sinatra singing in the background (Nick's "antidote to estrogen"), our ad man tries to put himself in a female state of mind. He shaves his legs, slips into the bra and panties, and applies mascara. When clean-up time comes, he drops a hair dryer into the bathtub he's soaking in. Rather than being burned to a crisp, Nick finds he can now hear what women are thinking. Their private thoughts are now his to exploit, and Nick wastes no time in using his new found gift to improve his own lot in life.

Not only does his clairvoyance serve him well when he's between the sheets with a waitress who has previously resisted his attempts to bed her, it comes in handy in the boardroom, as well. He knows what Darcy is thinking and is able to communicate her ideas about their new ad campaign before she does. It isn't long before Nick's boss concludes that hiring Darcy was a mistake and that the "man's man" was the perfect candidate for the job all along.

There are complications though. Nick's gift has made him a more sensitive man. His relationship with his estranged daughter improves, and he becomes such a gentle lover that one of his conquests concludes that he's gay. How else could he relate so well to the opposite sex? He saves another woman from suicide, and, naturally, falls in love with Darcy.

It may seem silly to look at such a frivolous film from a sociological perspective, but it's impossible not to. The title is not a question, after all, but a statement. This comedy dares to presume it knows what women want, but it is concerned with that only in relation to how this knowledge can serve the needs of a man. He is able to better understand women and, in doing so, can dominate his environment, including the women in his life, even more.

Gibson certainly dominates the film, although he's beginning to look a little too old for the role of a stud. If the muscles in his neck sag any lower, he'll be playing Ronald Reagan in no time. The women in the cast are about as significant as those in a James Bond movie. They provide decoration, but these aren't models or starlets, but proven talents like Marisa Tomei, Lauren Holly, Delta Burke, Valerie Perrine, and even Bette Midler who appears briefly as a psychologist. Poor Helen Hunt gets more screen time, but considering she won an Oscar as best actress only two years ago, her flimsy role proves that women do not control the economy, as this film claims, nor do actresses have much power in Hollywood.

No matter what the title says, What Women Want is just the same old macho nonsense that Hollywood turns out all year long. Women who want Mel Gibson may like it. Women who want a film that reflects their real lives may not.

Brian W. Fairbanks
Entertainment Editor

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Originally published at Paris Woman Journal
© 2000 Paris Woman Journal

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