December 17, 2000 -- If men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, then a man who speaks Venusian would have a big advantage in love and advertising. That's the premise of a good romantic comedy starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt called "What Women Want."
Gibson, star of "The Patriot," plays advertising executive Nick Marshall, a man whose Neanderthal approach to women is hurting his chances for job advancement at a time when women are an increasing force in the marketplace. That big job promotion he was expecting goes to Darcy Maguire (played by Helen Hunt of "Pay it Forward") instead. Just at the moment he feels he is facing extinction, a strange electrical shock gives Marshall the power to hear what women are thinking.
At first, Marshall seeks to reverse his condition because he is overwhelmed by all those stray female vibes, but soon, he learns to use his new ability to his advantage, stealing advertising ideas from Maguire, boosting his own career and sinking hers. However, his new insight into Maguire also causes him to fall in love with her. For one thing, he likes the way she says what she thinks. He gradually realizes that his sabotaging of Maguire's career is typical of his own worst behavior and that of other men who will do anything to get ahead.
Like "Tootsie," another film with a similar theme, there is some real insight into the battle of the sexes here. "What Women Want" is not as funny or as touching as "Tootsie" but it has a lot of the same admirable qualities as that classic comedy (one of the best comedies ever made). It is cleverly written, well-acted and well-directed by Nancy Meyers (who directed the remake of "The Parent Trap"). Mel Gibson shows good emotional range and an ability to handle slapstick comedy as well as romance. He is at once buffoonish and intelligent. He is able to ignore the needs of others in his relationships until their thoughts force themselves upon him.
This movie is loaded with top-notch acting talent, headed by Oscar-winners Hunt and Marisa Tomei (who plays Lola, one of Marshall's conquests). Able supporting actors include Alan Alda, Marshall's boss, Bette Midler, a psychiatrist, and Valerie Perrine, who plays Margo. Hunt does a fine job playing a counterpoint to Gibson in this classic battle of hearts. She is at once ambitious, smart, vulnerable and feminine. This film takes its place among the memorable battle of the sexes movies like "Adam's Rib." It rates a B.
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