Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Nancy Meyers

Stars: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Mark Feuerstein, Ashley Johnson, Lauren Holly, Bette Midler, Valerie Perrine, Delta Burke.

The battle between the sexes has been fertile ground for Hollywood, with films in this sub-genre harking back to the comedies of Tracy and Hepburn in their heyday (Adam’s Rib, etc) and even the series of lightweight romantic comedies of the ’50’s and ’60’s featuring Rock Hudson and Doris Day. What Women Want could easily and cynically be dismissed as a “chick flick”, but thankfully it has a broader appeal.

Mel Gibson has never ventured into the field of romantic comedy before, but in What Women Want he displays a nice sense of comic timing and gentle self mockery that suggests he is a natural at this sort of thing. The healthy box office success of What Women Want also suggest that Gibson may turn his hand to this sort of material more often in the future.

Gibson plays Nick Marshall, a smarmy, shallow womanizing advertising executive (is that some sort of tautology?), who is very good at his job. But when his macho campaigns mean that his company misses out on a share of the potentially lucrative women’s market, his boss (Alan Alda) hires hot shot female executive Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt). But while testing out some female products at home (in a wonderful scene in which Gibson sends up his own tough guy image by trying to explore his feminine side) he has an accident and is electrocuted. He then discovers that he has the ability to hear women’s thoughts, their deepest and most personal, intimate thoughts that they wouldn’t share with anybody else.

At first Nick is a bit nonplussed by this special ability, until he realises that it gives him an inside track into understanding what women want. Suddenly Nick has undergone a transformation into a sensitive new age guy. He is a wonderful lover, a considerate colleague, and even begins healing his relationship with his estranged teenage daughter (Ashley Johnson). But, most importantly, he is able to take Darcy’s creative ideas and adapt them for himself even before she has fully formulated her thoughts. His star is on the rise again, until he begins to fall for Darcy, and his conscience kicks in.

The numerous subplots are eventually resolved in a rather simplistic and contrived fashion that undoes much of the movie’s charm and whimsical nature. What Women Want is a little over long, and the pace occasionally flags. However, the film still has plenty of charm to spare, and director Nancy Meyers (who scripted comedies such as Private Benjamin and Baby Boom, etc) keeps the mood mellow and the chuckles coming.

Gibson lightens up and has a lot of fun here, and he demonstrates a great sense of timing and a knack for comedy. He seems far more relaxed and easy going here than he did in The Million Dollar Hotel, and is actually enjoying himself immensely. Hunt is also quite good, and brings strength her role. She and Gibson develop a genuine sense of rapport that enhances the movie.

Many of the peripheral characters remain marginal at best, and give a strong ensemble supporting cast, that includes veterans of the calibre of Alda, Lauren Holly and Valerie Perrine, little to work with. Bette Midler is great in a small cameo as a psychiatrist who helps Nick come to terms with his special ability.



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