Does Anyone Really Know? Even Mel?8/10
Here is a movie that, to be sure, is part fantasy, part wacky comedy; but to call `What Women Want,' directed by Nancy Meyers, `just' a comedy would be not only inaccurate, but would be doing an injustice to the film as well. Because-- while there are plenty of laughs to be had (especially early on)-- in the end, there is a lot more bite and substance to it than first meets the eye. Enough to definitely raise it far above the `fluff' piece many will perceive it to be, if only due to some shallow reviews and the theatrical trailer currently being shown, which gives only the vaguest notion of what this movie is really all about. In fact, once most of the `cute' stuff is out of the way (about a third of the way through), the film really starts to get good,with a message about decency that is worthwhile, if only it can penetrate the formidable barrier of the viewer with an attention span barely able to accommodate an episode of `Friends.' Beyond the humor, there is a story here about a man named Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) who literally receives the shock of his life, and afterwards must deal with who he is by coming to terms with his past, realizing the truth about himself in the present, and understanding what his future will be if he does not change his ways . It's something of a contemporary take on `A Christmas Carol,' with Nick an egotistical, self-centered, witty (In his own eyes) Scrooge; a veritable legend in his own mind, which is not-- as he comes to find out-- necessarily the way he is perceived by many of those around him, especially the women in his professional life. The screenplay, written by Cathy Yuspa and Josh Goldsmith, is extremely insightful and brought to the screen with equal acuity by director Meyers, who goes to great lengths at the beginning of the film to explain Nick's exaggerated chauvinism, what made him the `Man's man' he has become. And while it is clever and effective, closer scrutiny in the editing room may have benefited the overall film, as his character is somewhat `overly' established. But just about at the point when you're saying to yourself, `All right I get it!' Meyers grabs the helm with both hands and suddenly the ship is at full mast and on course, where she keeps it for the rest of the journey. The turning point comes after Nick's visit to a marriage counselor (a terrific cameo by Bette Midler) with whom he had had business some years before. It's as if not only Nick, but Meyers as well, had heeded Bette's advice. Mel Gibson does a good job of getting into Nick Marshall's skin, and he's to be commended for going out on a limb and taking on a character that may not be immediately embraced by even die-hard Gibson fans. It's a testimony to his ability as an actor, though, because he does make Nick the epitome of chauvinism, and except for the few throw-back Neanderthals (women as well as men) still in existence who subscribe to the `Man's man' theory of de-evolution, Nick will effect the same response from the audience that he does in the minds of many of the women who surround him in the movie. It's only when you've had a chance to consider Gibson's performance at arm's length that you will realize how good he is in this film. On the other hand, the real saving grace of this movie is immediately discernible, and that is the performance of the wonderful Helen Hunt. As Darcy McGuire, the professional hired to lead the ad agency for whom Nick works into the Twenty-first Century, Hunt is nothing less than sensational. One of the most gifted, expressive actors in the business, she raises the level of the drama (not to mention the comedy) by succinctly conveying the strength-- and at the same time the vulnerability-- of Darcy, while exhibiting a depth of emotion that adds so much to the impact (and the success) of the film. And, in a notable supporting role, Judy Greer is memorable as Erin, a lonely young woman who works at the ad agency. It's the `Tiny Tim' role of the film, and though a small part, it figures prominently in revealing Nick's inner-most feelings at a pivotal moment of the film. Rounding out the supporting cast are Alan Alda (Dan), Marisa Tomei (Lola), Ashley Johnson (Alexandra), Mark Feuerstein (Morgan), Lauren Holly (Gigi), Delta Burke (Eve), Valerie Perrine (Margo) and Sarah Paulson (Annie). What Meyers has created here is a mixed-bag, sleight-of-hand bit of entertainment that is so much more than what it seems to be on the surface that it is bound to evoke an equally mixed-bag of reactions (positive and negative) from the audience. It's amusing-- downright funny at times-- but also exasperating. To receive the full rewards offered by `What Women Want,' you're going to have to give it something as well. If you do, you'll be pleasantly surprised by what you get in return. And that, my friends, is the magic of the movies. I rate this one 8/10.