Meet Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson), a real man’s man. Macho but a charmer, other guys look up to him, women long for him even though he’s a jerk. Smoking, belching, bimbo loving, violence enjoying guy guy, Nick Marshall. Well, that was to be expected since he’s been raised in Las Vegas by his showgirl mother, surrounded by frisky, objectified women and chauvinistic men. So now Nick’s nearly middle-aged, divorced, with a daughter he barely knows. He can still rack chicks in, but never for long. There’s always his job in a big-time Chicago advertising agency, but even that isn’t going too well these days. As his boss (played by Alan Alda) explains him, the T&A to sell cars, cigarettes and beer in the 80s was alright, but now in this century, it’s a different world. In many ways, a woman’s world. They are the biggest shoppers, the biggest consumers. That’s where the money is, and Nick’s superiors want a piece of that action. Hence, the promotion that was supposed to go to him goes instead to ambitious Darcy (Helen Hunt), whom they feel will be able to seduce the female market.
Oh, so they want to sell to the ladies, uh? Well, figures Nick, I could do that. All he has to do is to understand what it is that women want, and then he’ll have them buying anything. So Nick tries to get inside a woman’s head by painting his nails, waxing his legs (ouch!), putting on a bra and pantyhose… But it’s when he gets electrocuted in a freak accident that he gets to finally understand women, for he gains the power to hear whatever women are thinking. You might be thinking oh, great, another comedy with a gimmick. You’d be right, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This time, the gimmick is intriguing and amusing, and it remains as such through the film. It leads to countless funny moments, as Nick’s new condition puts him in various oddball situations. Hearing what is really on a date’s mind while they’re having sex, listening to what his daughter would never say out loud, picking up on co-workers’ real feelings…
Nick’s newfound ability could be used for many things. He uses his powers for “evil”, reading a coffee shop clerk (Marisa Tomei)’s mind to get into her pants, but also for good, as it makes him pick up on an employee’s suicidal tendencies and save her from herself. But mostly, Nick uses his power at work to steal ideas from Darcy and try and get his promotion after all. But as he spends more and more time with her picking her brain (literally!), he discovers a wonderful woman and falls for her… Will he be able to make up for his backstabbing and make it work between them? Is Mel Gibson a hunk?
Okay, so no big surprises here, no incredible insight. Men have to listen to women more, that’s pretty much all you can learn. Yet as lightweight and shamelessly crowd-pleasing as “What Women Want” can be, it does end up being terrific entertainment. Director Nancy Meyers has made a real winner of a movie that’s insightful, irreverent, hilarious and romantic all at once. Meyers does a good job behind the camera, always keeping her movie good looking and dynamic, hip and old fashioned at the same time… Meyers is clearly working into Nora Ephron territory, which I like, but this isn’t actually that much a chick flick, not with it being told from the point of view of a man. And what a man! Mel Gibson is simply outstanding in the movie. The guy’s funny, charming and always compelling to watch as an initially macho man who grows some sensitivity. And wait until you see his graceful, show-stopping dance number to an old Sinatra number!
Gibson is surrounded by a strong supporting cast led by Helen Hunt, with whom he has a lot of chemistry. I really like the way their romance is handled. These aren’t some teenage airheads fooling around, but two adults who’ve been through quite a lot and who take their time, wait and see what happens. Hunt’s character is interesting too in the way that, even though she’s a career woman, the film doesn’t make her into an icy bitch. She’s intelligent and driven, but she still is just like any other woman, with hopes, fears and feelings. You can see why Gibson falls for her, and vice versa. “What Women Want” could have been a one-joke film, but it turns out to be a rich, very entertaining feel good romantic comedy that will please both men and women.