February 22, 2020
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What Women Want

What Women Want
What Women Want
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Starring: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei
Director: Nancy Meyers
Rating: **


This eagerly awaited goodbye to Mel Gibson’s Mad Max macho self-image opens with some zany moments. Nick (Gibson’s character) is your typical male of the bygone era—brought up in Las Vegas under the shadow of a showgirl mother, he is the product of a time when girls were tough, glamorous and not so uppity about getting a pat on the bottom. Lost in the kickass but prudish New World of womanpower and its music (where he gets to sleep but not to speak to them), Nick is made to return time and time again to jazz.

Then he discovers that he can hear what women think—instead of becoming repentant about being a “cocky bullshitter” (this is what he hears most of the time), he puts the “knowledge” to good use. He steals the creative ideas of his rival-cum-boss (Helen Hunt) and wins a big account for his advertising firm which is struggling to find a foothold in a consumer market dominated by women.

Mack the Knife, the representative jazz tune of the ’40s and the ’50s, plays in the background as Nick enacts his game. The device speaks of the contemporary male’s rather funny alienation. It also furnishes a good example of a didactic use of music in cinema. Later, however, Nick begins repenting—his sly charm is still alive when he shrugs off a priggish/horny girlfriend (Marisa Tomei) by posing as a gay. Their encounter also highlights the basic comedy of contemporary sex where you have to pick a woman’s brains before making her squirm in ecstasy.

But then he falls for his boss—overcome by love, he confesses to his misdemeanour. She fires him as a co-worker but takes him on as a reformed, soft lover. You realise, at this point, that ingenuity has long since given way to a feel-good political correctness and that the fun stands spoiled. Gibson, who otherwise puts up a credible show, suddenly becomes awkward — Hunt, who remains strangely reticent throughout the movie, also stays rigid. Her performance suffers in the bargain.

In fact, her character remains the weakest link of the thin (and often weary) plot—she’s too one-dimensional for a nice career girl uneasy about the added reputation of being a man-eater and a bitch. Here, as elsewhere, director Nancy Meyers, herself a woman, seems to be succumbing to the pressure of underplaying the all-too-obvious contradictions of girl power.

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