Sunday, October 21, 2012

Women Want to Be Patronized?: "What Women Want" (2000)

Mel Gibson is a handsome man.

During the press junkets for this film, so many fluff entertainment reporters would question Mel, "so what DO women want?" The actor would laugh, the reporter would smile, and Entertainment Tonight would lead off with a cute story. It is obvious that the marketing department for the studio thought they knew what women wanted and gave it to them. Just look at the poster and video box- 'WHAT WOMEN WANT,' and a picture of an adorable Mel grinning from ear to ear. This film plays it so safe, I thought a minor trim could have turned this into a G-rated film.

Mel Gibson plays perhaps the nicest, sweetest, most likable womanizer in film history. I was ready to see Mel treat women like crap, and get his comeuppance when he began to know what they were really thinking, but I was wrong. He stretches credibility by trying on women's products on the orders of his new boss Helen Hunt, and electrocutes himself in a bathtub with a hair dryer. Suddenly, he can hear what women are thinking. He uses this to begin to take down Hunt, who got the job he wanted, and beds the pathetic Tomei, knowing her every sexual wish. He also begins to read the mind of his daughter, Ashley Johnson, who is blossoming into womanhood (and he cannot do anything about it), and the mind of a suicidal mousy worker at his ad agency. You would think this kind of can't-miss set up would really score some points for relevance. I was wrong. Helen Hunt plays the exact same role she played on "Mad About You." I kept expecting everyone to call her Jamie before she went home to Paul Reiser. She comes to the agency with "bitch on wheels" rumors swirling about her, but she turns out to be nice. So nice. Too nice. Couldn't we see some kind of emotion from this character besides sheepish smiles?

Mel beds down Marisa Tomei's character in one embarrassing scene. He has been asking her out for months, gets her into bed, decides he loves Hunt, so he gets rid of Tomei by telling her HE IS GAY. Where was the outcry from the homosexual community over this little bit of stupidity? Here is Mel, using an easy out (so to speak) to dump a character the writers should have trimmed in the first place. And why would a gay man spend months asking a woman out, sleep with her, and then admit he's gay? Does anyone else see the logic behind this, much less the fact that Tomei buys it and promptly removes herself from the film? I kept hoping she would pop up later and tell Hunt this little gay fact, but nope.

Ashley Johnson is wonderful as Mel's daughter who has obviously picked the wrong guy she plans to lose her virginity to on prom night. Thank God some casting director did not go cast Denise Richards or Jessica Biel in a role that required a substantial amount of teen awkwardness, and Johnson is great here. Bette Midler also has a completely unnecessary role here, in a cameo as a psychiatrist. Her role also seemed to be cast, and then written. If you are a known womanizer who can suddenly read the thoughts of the very women you pursue, do you really need Midler to tell you that you can use this power to get more women into bed? That would be my first thought! Midler also disappears, and I also kept waiting for her to pop up later. Never did.

Finally, the mousy suicidal clerk. Mel reads her mind. She is unhappy at work, no one would notice if she just died. Mel gets this constant vibe, is nice to her a couple of times, realizes he is partly to blame for her depression, and goes to see her when she does not show up for work one day- something she has been promising to do through the whole movie. Mel goes to her back alley apartment, gets showered in sparks, and loses his ability to read thoughts. He goes up to mousy girl's place anyway, breaks in, and finds an empty pill bottle and a suicide note! Oh, no, Mel's too late! The film does have an edge!...no, mousy girl pops out of the bathroom, Mel offers her a copywriting job, and he leaves to win back Hunt, who was fired by sensitive Alan Alda, and the job given to Mel. I thought, well, what about the empty pill bottle? After Mel left did she dial 911, tell them about her fabulous new job that cured her suicidal depression, and request a stomach pump?

The finale, involving Mel and Helen reciting what seems to be rejected Hallmark cards to each other is a letdown. When Mel is alone onscreen, he does that irritating habit where he has complete conversations with himself, like the dolt he played in "Conspiracy Theory." I wanted him to just shut up so often. Well, one of my longest reviews concludes, but there was a lot wrong with this film. This really is not a film, it is the result of test audience samplings and opinion polls. This is easy film making by committee, guaranteed to make money and not harm anyone's career, although if you have an inkling what Delta Burke and Valerie Perrine's purposes were here, you are smarter than I.

"What Women Want" is lighter than a large cotton candy, and about as satisfying. (* *) out of five stars.