Mel Is From Mars, Helen's From Venus
By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2000
I went into "What Women Want" with the same enthusiasm that I would a
colonoscopy. But I have to say, even though I am allergic to Nora
Ephron-style pandering (I have a doctor's note to prove it), the movie's not
as toxic as I expected. Fans of bubbly romances can consider this a thumbs
up. I call it a clenched-teeth concession at best.
Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson are business rivals turned lovers in "What Women Want."
Essentially, "Women" is a men-from-Mars-women-from-Venus comedy, starring
the leading male Martian of the species, Mel Gibson. As advertising executive
and womanizer Nick Marshall, he's all testosterone: arrogant about his
abilities in the office and the bedroom. He loves Sinatra. He doesn't drink
wine, he gulps it. He's a man's man, a cliché.
Representing the Venusians is Helen Hunt. As Darcy Maguire, she's
unflappable (on the surface, anyway), honest, straightforward, adorable and,
of course, blond and pretty.
She's also the newest hire at Nick's firm. In fact, she took the job that
Nick wanted: creative director. This makes her Nick's boss. War! Her agenda:
to corner the market on women's products, lipstick, leg wax, tights, you
name it. In other words, Nick, who makes manly ads full of nubile,
spread-eagled women, is effectively a dinosaur.
There's a twist to this movie, which was directed by Nancy Meyers, by the
way, not Ephron. Nick suddenly acquires the ability to hear the thoughts of
every woman. How does this happen? He accidentally zaps himself in the
bathtub with a hair dryer. This occurs when he has taken some of these
feminine products home even slipped on the tights to come up with an
How low man has fallen.
But when Nick picks himself up from the shock, he's catching thoughts from
women all over Chicago. Suddenly he realizes what those women in the office
really think of him. But he has a fantastic advantage in the war with Darcy.
He can read the mind of his greatest rival, the woman he wants to put out of
Would it be too duuuh to mention they start falling in love?
Clearly, this movie amounts to a politically correct makeover for Nick,
whose teenage daughter, Alex (Ashley Johnson), unexpectedly moves in with
him while the ex (Lauren Holly) is out of town. Now he's got to shop with
Alex for her prom dress and listen to her thoughts and, horror of horrors, be
a good father.
Writers Josh Goldsmith, Cathy Yuspa and Diane Drake have created some rich
situations that will appeal to Martians and Venusians in the audience,
including Nick's terrifying bout with a home-waxing kit, and a brainstorming
session at the firm, which Darcy leads and Nick mind-reads. But this is an
extremely long comedy at more than two hours. And they create some weird
loose ends (which may be the fault of Meyers during the editing process, for
all I know). After we meet an uncredited and amusing Bette Midler as Nick's
former marital counselor, she vanishes for the rest of the movie. And Marisa
Tomei plays a love interest for Nick who gets shafted big time, by Nick and
the screenplay. She's just tossed out.
Gibson, despite that oily I'm Mel, baby presence and despite the fact that
he's nothing but set-up Spam on a feminist plate, does eventually win you
over. So does Hunt, even though she's doing the same trick she always does:
heightening that beauty with disarming charm. And when they do get together,
as we know they will, it's not the worst interplanetary coupling that ever
"What Women Want" (PG-13, 127 minutes) Contains obscenity, sexual scenes
and hideous destruction of male leg hair.