What Women Want

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Review byMatthew Turner5/02/2001

3 out of 5 stars
Running time: 126 mins

Above-average romantic comedy with some nice ideas and a winning performance from Mel Gibson.

Mel Gibson stars as Nick Marshall, a chauvinistic advertising executive specialising in bikini-clad babe-style campaigns, who’s passed over for promotion in favour of Helen Hunt’s Darcy McGuire because his boss (Alan Alda, criminally wasted) wants to target the women’s market.

So when Nick accidentally electrocutes himself with a hairdryer and wakes up to discover he can hear women’s thoughts, he sets about trying to win back the job he thinks should have been his, while simultaneously trying to seduce the pretty coffee-shop girl he fancies (Marisa Tomei) and win back some respect from his teenage daughter (Ashley Johnson).

Decent romantic comedies are notoriously hard to get right. Of recent offerings, only High Fidelity springs to mind, and even that suffered from a miscast female lead and an overall feeling of ‘should have been better’. The same applies here - there’s precious little chemistry between Gibson and Hunt - who seems to be in everything at the moment and who is also done no favours by some orangey-looking make-up and lighting combinations.

Similarly, the ending is unsatisfactory and comes across as seeming badly rushed, while the Tomei subplot doesn’t work because you end up being angry at Gibson for sleeping with her while he’s obviously attracted to Hunt.

That said, there’s a lot to enjoy along the way, principally in the comic mileage wrung from the central premise of Mel hearing women’s thoughts, whether it’s the bitterness behind the smiling-and-sucking-up-to-the-boss he encounters at work, or in one of the best scenes, Marisa Tomei’s less-than-favourable thoughts on his bedroom technique.

Sadly, they then ruin this scene by having him ‘have another go’ – cut to Tomei praising his amazing prowess as a ‘Sex God’, only the film-makers didn’t have the guts to show us any actual details.

Some of the best moments in the film are little throwaway moments, such as Mel’s Sean Connery impression while channel-surfing, or, later, bursting into tears while watching a woman’s confession on a weight-loss infomercial.

In fact, credit has to go to Gibson for allowing himself to appear, shall we say, ‘less than masculine’ onscreen - in particular the scene where he ‘tests’ the female products in an attempt to come up with advertising ideas. There’s some neat support too, from Lauren Holly as his ex-wife and a cameo by Bette Midler as his shrink.

However, the best performance is from Ashley Johnson (who looks like a young Ricki Lake), as his neglected daughter Alex.

The film desperately wants to be like one of the classic screwball romantic comedies, or a Rock Hudson / Doris Day type comedy, and a predominance of Sinatra on the soundtrack seems to back this up, though sadly, Gibson’s ‘cute’ dance routine backfires somewhat and comes across as embarrassing. There are some very subtle references to older Hollywood films (a bit from The Apartment, a bit from Rear Window), but ultimately that’s as close as they get.

Overall, then, not the disaster it could have been, and certainly the best romantic comedy currently on release, though that’s not saying much. You could do worse of a Friday night.

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Content updated: 12/12/2019 02:57

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