Taraji P. Henson swirls through the gender-flipped comedy What Men Want like the Tasmanian devil, giving a Looney Tunes slapstick performance bound to make even Tiffany Haddish blush (and grow green with envy as well). While admittedly fun to watch, her outrageousness only underscores the uneven tone in this reboot of the Nancy Meyers’ high-concept 2000 film in which Mel Gibson’s sexist pig discovers he can read the thoughts of women around him after getting conked on the head.
Where Gibson’s character in What Women Want superficially explored his feminine side primarily for laughs (makeup, manicures, pantyhose!) to better understand the modern woman, Ali (Henson) is primarily interested in using the subconscious ruminations of men in close proximity (yes, as the result of yet another hackneyed conk on the head) to shatter the glass ceiling at the sports agency where she works. Her beef with the boys’ club is legitimate, but the scrappy Ali doesn’t really care about using her gift to learn about what men want, despite her character’s predictable eleventh-hour rehabilitation. The movie is really all about what she wants, consequences be damned. And therein lies the lesson.
Yet while a game Henson entertains for most of the movie – even when her over-the-top gestures make no sense – Morgan is little more than an appendage as the smothering father of a young basketball player Ali is trying to sign. Why do Morgan’s lines always sound as if he’s shouting them into a megaphone? The camaraderie between Ali and her three BFFs (McLendon-Covey, Robinson, and Jones) doesn’t come close to the degree of friendship experienced by the quartet in Girls Trip or the wedding party in Bridesmaids, depriving the movie of a sisterhood narrative that might have smoothed out its patchy tone. On a positive note, the movie nicely features a positive burgeoning gay relationship between two male co-workers, and makes some sharp observations about how women can find themselves overcompensating in the workplace to overcome the embedded prejudices confronting them there.
Henson aside, the most memorable performance comes from musician Erykah Badu in the smallish role of a trippy, weed-dealing psychic seemingly from another planet. Coiffed in a natural mane of auburn hair and sporting curled fingernails resembling delicate talons, Badu isn’t onscreen for very long, but in her allotted minutes, she appears to be having the time of her life.
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