If you looked like Mel Gibson, being able to read women’s minds wouldn’t be too imperative. Just give ‘em those baby blues and flash those pearly whites, and you’re in, baby. Or so you’d think. In What Women Want, directed by relationship comedy veteran Nancy Meyers, Gibson’s character gets the real scoop on what the fairer sex thinks about him, and boy, is he in trouble. But his problems are the viewer’s fortune.
As all-star Chicago ad man Nick Marshall, Gibson is awash in the stereotypical world of a man’s man. Ogling chicks, living high on the hog, and being a major player is his life. He has unending self-confidence just because he can bed babes, but ho, what he doesn’t know….
See, Nick’s not too receptive to women when they, well, speak, and he’s not beneath ordering them around either. Enter Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt), a young hottie hired as Nick’s boss, who gets the job that he’s been eyeing. Fifteen years ago, that alone would’ve been good movie fodder (as in Nine to Five and Working Girl), but here the idea’s been amped up.
While drunk and stupid, Nick tries on various women’s products in order to get into ladies’ minds and maybe impress the boss with a new idea. One freaky electrical accident later, and Nick discovers he can actually steal the boss’ ideas — straight from her own thoughts. If women think it, Nick hears it.
It’s about as high concept as today’s comedies get, and guided by Meyers’ fine-tuned hand, it really works (she wrote Protocol and Baby Boom, and wrote/directed the satisfying update of The Parent Trap). Meyers, working from an impressive debut script by King of Queens writers Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, showcases the obvious advantages and pitfalls of such an insane power, and lets Gibson show off the superstar gloss that nearly defines him. But the major plus is the film’s big-time, old-school Hollywood feel, from the directing to the costumes to the set design.
In throwback style, Nick’s not just a sexist — he’s a stinkin’ male chauvinist pig. And he’s not wealthy — he’s filthy rich. He moves like a movie star, thinks on his feet, and calls women ‘babe.’ With his swagger and good looks, and Alan Silvestri’s big-band-baby music behind him, Gibson’s Nick recalls a big businessman that may have been played by Clark Gable. And his goofy way with women once he obtains his powers feels like an old Preston Sturges or Frank Capra movie. (I’m guessing Meyers was going for that; You Can’t Take It With You is the play at Nick’s daughter’s school.)
There are some scenes that Meyers really should’ve chopped — such as an inexcusable MTVesque montage of Nick helping his kid (Ashley Johnson) pick out a prom dress — but in all, the scenes stay funny and even pack a few surprises.
Gibson hams it up a little too much for my taste, but the fun he has as Nick is infectious. Helen Hunt is, well, The Helen Hunt Character, but she remains a competent actor that can make good things happen on screen. Alan Alda is a solid co-star as Nick and Darcy’s boss, and Marisa Tomei is excellent as a neurotic coffee slinger pining for companionship. With her range and abilities, I wish she had been given the role of Darcy.
But when Darcy and Nick do connect (c’mon, of course they do!), Meyers successfully holds on to that old-style feel. One simple rendezvous carries a sweet, romantic wistfulness within the perfect backdrop of a small booth at an elegant jazz club. Bogey would’ve loved it. Meyers has done more than just pay homage to the old Hollywood romantic comedy — it would appear that she has actually made one.
The DVD release of WWW is a good one, though its extras are pretty tame. Two trailers, two dull-as-rocks making-of featurettes, and a very snoozy commentary track by director Meyers and her production designer(?) add virtually nothing to the picture — which stands fairly well on its own.
What Helen wants, she gets.