The Austin Chronicle

What Women Want

Rated PG-13, 123 min. Directed by Nancy Meyers. Starring Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Mark Feuerstein, Lauren Holly, Bette Midler, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Valerie Perrine.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Dec. 22, 2000

What women really want is for their men to act more like women. At least, that's the theory espoused by toothsome Mel Gibson's new “rake-on-the-road-to-redemption” vehicle, What Women Want. Gibson's Nick Marshall is a charmer and a cad, an ad exec who specializes in producing beer advertisements featuring buxom blondes (and then bedding the same sort once the workday's done). But his type of Don Juan is fast fossilizing in the now female-oriented advertising business, which is made clear when Nick's supposedly in-the-bag promotion goes instead to upstart Darcy (Helen Hunt, cold-fish as ever). She understands the female psyche (and its buying needs); Nick does not. So Nick gets piss-drunk, tries out some hot wax and a pair of pantyhose (thinking this is the way into women's heads), and, in a freakishly funny sequence, falls into the tub with a hairdryer in hand. Voila. He wakes up with the ability to read women's minds. What follows is Nick's struggle to manipulate his new power in order to beat women at their own game: Figure out what they want, then do it … and watch them turn to a mass of cooing putty in his hands. Gibson absolutely owns this role, all suave and preening and easy charm. At one point, Nick dances (Fred Astaire-style) alone in his apartment to the milky sounds of Frank Sinatra, tipping his hat and making the coat-rack swoon. It's irresistible. Scenes like this give What Women Want an instantly nostalgic feel, and more than once the film recalls the old screwball comedies of the Thirties and Forties. For the first hour and a half, What Women Want for the most part glides by on this kind of light-hearted, innocuous appeal -- Nick learns yoga, gets manicures, and dishes with the girls at coffee break time -- but then it all falls apart. Why? Because the filmmakers insisted upon taking a fun story and turning it into a redemption tale. Somebody's got to save Nick from himself. Somebody's got to be his knight in shining armor. (And, in one of the more egregious casting mishaps of late, the marvelous, magnetic Marisa Tomei -- as a slightly schizo Starbucks employee cum actress -- should have been that knight-in-mocchachino-splattered-armor.) So the last half-hour is devoted to a dull, drawn-out morality play where Nick learns his lesson and the audience gets no laughs. It's like 90 minutes of teasing foreplay, and then, just when it's about to get really good, your partner rolls over and goes to sleep. What women want? How about a little follow-through?

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