What Women Want

on December 15, 2000 by Christine James
   You really don't need to electrocute yourself in a tub full of women's products, thereby zapping your cerebrum with femme-centric psychic abilities, to understand women--at least not to the depths this lightweight romantic comedy does. But that's the only way man's man Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) can be jolted out of his self-absorbed, Sinatra simpatico ways. Coolly annoyed at being passed over at his ad agency for a top position that goes instead to female wunderkind Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt), the malapertly charming and confident Nick strives to prove that he can sell to the distaff demographic, attempting to put himself in the right frame of mind by experimenting with their gender-specific products. Hair moussed, eyelashes coated lusciously dark and thick, leg hair waxed, nylons performing their leg-flattering, tummy-flattening illusions, silken brassiere doing its best to lift and separate, Nick is quite a sight, but nevertheless without epiphanies--that is, until he slips on that girliest of products, bath beads, knocking mascara tubes, pregnancy tests and the like into his freshly drawn bath before falling in himself, fully-powered hairdryer in hand. The classic cinematic invention that electricity plus chemicals equals science-flouting magical transformation is employed, and Nick finds himself able to hear--in fact, unable to shut out--the internal dialogues of women everywhere.

   Predictably, the unapologetic chauvinist at first uses his peculiar sixth sense to manipulate sexual conquests and undermine his new superior. However, prolonged exposure to the sensitivities of the fairer sex can't help but bring out the Venusian in Nick, to the point that he skips past his usual macho blood-and-guts TV fare but lingers on a Richard Simmons weight loss testimonial whose poignancy brings him to unabashedly free-flowing tears.

   Gibson plays the facets of his ever-transmogrifying persona with flair at every turn: Even his contemptibly hedonistic incarnation is able to sweep the audience--and a hat stand--off its feet in a Fred Astaire-inspired dance with the aforementioned chapeau rack, and he only grows more appealing as he embraces instead of embattling the mindset of the opposite sex. However, that mindset as depicted here doesn't do women many favors, the topics of contemplation revolving predominantly around sex, resentment and insecurity. When we come to a scene in which Nick is determined to study and take seriously the thoughts to which he's secretly privy, the montage in which he collects his data drowns out the already inaudibly murmured cognitions with its musical score. Is it that hard to come up with some intellectually compelling contemplations for women to muse over between self-flagellations and episodes of "Sex and the City"? Starring Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Ashley Johnson and Marisa Tomei. Directed by Nancy Meyers. Written by Josh Goldsmith & Cathy Yuspa. Produced by Nancy Meyers, Matt Williams, Susan Cartsonis, Gina Matthews and Bruce Davey. A Paramount release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content and language. Running time: 126 min

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