Mel GibsonHelen HuntMarisa TomeiLauren Holly
What Women Want
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Nancy Meyers
Writer: Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa, Diane Drake
Keywords: comedy, fantasy
Country: USA
Actor: Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Alan Alda, Ashley Johnson, Mark Feuerstein, Lauren Holly, Delta Burke, Valerie Perrine, Judy Greer, Sarah Paulson, Ana Gasteyer, Lisa Edelstein, Loretta Devine, Diana Maria Riva, Eric Balfour, Bette Midler [uncredited]
Format: 127 minutes
Website category: Fantasy
Review date: 4 July 2012
Bloody hell, Mel Gibson's good. Terrifying role to take on. I wouldn't have had the courage to go near it in a million years. Loved the movie.
It's a romantic comedy and the fourth highest-grossing movie released in 2000, after Mission: Impossible II, Gladiator and Cast Away. Budget: 70 million. Worldwide gross: 374 million. That doesn't in itself make the film good, obviously, but it made the studio happy. At one point it was also the most successful film ever directed by a woman, although I presume it's since been overtaken.
The movie starts with four solid minutes of high-intensity exposition about why Mel Gibson's a cock. (Okay, that was mischievously phrased. His character's called Nick.) Anyway, we get childhood flashbacks and character dissection from his ex-wife. He's a man's man, but not in a good way. He loves himself. He's incapable of listening to others. He doesn't know how old his daughter is and it's slightly surprising that he even remembers her name. All the women at his work (an advertising agency) think he's a sexist pig.
He's a monster, basically. However at the same time he's also charming, smooth and "can get into their pants better than anybody on Earth". In short, they wanted Sean Connery.
Even pulling off this much would be a challenge for anyone, to put it mildly. Gibson doesn't do Connery, except for a short sequence where he sees him on television and does the voice for laughs. He doesn't make Nick vile, which slightly surprised me, but on reflection I think he goes exactly as far as he could have without breaking the rest of the movie. Nick doesn't hate women. He hasn't stretched his intellect far enough for that. Instead he lives in a hermetic bubble of his wonderful self, since he's rolling in money, picks up girls at will and is every inch as charming as everyone says. Gibson's clearly having a ball playing him. He has a smug little head-wobble, he purrs and he made me laugh with lines as simple as "thank you".
Gibson goes to town on all that without making the character: (a) a caricature, (b) unsympathetic or (c) stupid. I loved it. He also has a Las Vegas background that means he's liable to turn off his TV and instead do a song-and-dance number as his idea of relaxation. Don't ask.
So that's the first half-hour. What happens next is an electrocution scene, shot so cartoonishly that it's like the director mugging to camera. However it had to be like that because it's a magical electrocution which is about to grant superpowers and push the movie into whimsical fantasy territory. Gibson doesn't die. Instead he wakes up with the ability to hear women's thoughts. He knows what they're thinking. You can work out the rest for yourself.
This could have been creaky and predictable. It's not. Okay, a bit predictable, maybe, but Gibson's putting so much into the role that it's still a blast to watch him tearing through it. I love the way he thinks his gift's a curse until it occurs to him that he can make use of it. I love the way it transforms him as a person (surprise!) and yet Gibson does this without losing the old unreconstructed Nick. Watching him claim to be gay is hysterical, for instance. However the movie's not a one-man show, with plenty of Oscar-winning talent in the supporting roles. I think Helen Hunt's role is surprisingly thin, on closer examination, but she makes the most of it and creates plenty of shades and reality. Her scenes with Gibson are also first-rate and the engine of the movie.
Meanwhile Alan Alda is his boss. Bette Midler gets an uncredited role as a doctor. Marisa Tomei and Judy Greer are women whose stories have darker shades. Tomei gets a rough deal, but I loved what Greer's subplot added to the movie. The teenage daughter... okay, the actress is clearly making herself look less essential than her co-stars, but she's still perfectly good and I think her subplot is showing us an important side of Dad.
Random observation: in the world of this film, women don't get naked before, after or even during (?) sex.
I looked up the director and she sounds interesting too, by the way. Nancy Meyers is a writer, director and producer who these days does all three roles for her own films. She was Oscar-nominated at her first shot with her script for Private Benjamin, which had been almost impossible to sell to the studios because it had a female lead (Goldie Hawn) and no male star.
There's a Chinese remake from 2011, starring Andy Lau and Gong Li. What's interesting about this is that Andy Lau and Gong Li are proper movie stars and it's apparently a careful scene-by-scene remake, yet the word I've heard is that it fails. People don't like it. My theory is that the story is a fairly delicate thing, requiring the audience both to accept a big leap of fantasy and to go along with a plot that lacks surprises once you're past the big half-hour development. This is the worst kind of film to remake, since I reckon it would look a bit creaky in outline and mostly came to life through the "lightning in a bottle" factor of great actors running away with the material.
In summary: loved it. It's funny, sometimes wonderfully so. The ending is a little awkward, but I liked that inelegance. It grounded it. I think everyone in it is doing excellent work, including the teenage daughter if one allows for her age. I'd have loved to see Mel Gibson going even further as Dinosaur Nick, but not if this had had the payoff of damaging his credibility as a New Man later. I believed completely in that journey, which is the crucial thing.
"Gotta think like a broad... okay, I'm a broad. I see lipstick. On a Tahitian beauty under a waterfall, wearing nothing but a thong, cold water cascading down her ba... I'm a lesbian!"