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'What Women Want':
A Cosmetic Approach

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 15, 2000


    'What Women Want' Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson star in "What Women Want." (Walt Disney Pictures)
"Mel Gibson goes from "Mad Max" to Max Factor in his crowd-pleasing comic debut, "What Women Want." Apparently the former Sexiest Man Alive believes what they want is him . . . even when he's wearing control-top pantyhose.

This movie is many things – a vanity production, a romantic romp, a cornucopia of product placements – but it is definitely not about women's wants. Despite its feminist trappings and female director, Nancy Meyers, it reinforces the same old misconceptions about the differences between the sexes.

Gibson plays cocky adman Nick Marshall, an unapologetic womanizer who thinks he's God's gift to women until a near-death experience gives him the power to read gals' minds. And he finds, to his surprise, that most of them think he's a gift best left in the box. His co-workers hate his sexist jokes, his conquests fault his lovemaking, and his Harvard-educated assistant hates fetching his coffee. (Didn't we clear that up 20 years ago in "9 to 5"?)

At first Nick is dismayed by the turn of events, but he quickly learns to use his ability to further his interests: seducing a reluctant waitress (Marisa Tomei), winning over his distant 15-year-old daughter (Ashley Johnson) and, most importantly, sabotaging his rival (Helen Hunt) at work.

And two guesses whether Nick ends up turning into "what women want" – a sympathetic guy who knows that pantyhose bind, mascara clumps and listening is the No. 1 priority . . . even if men do it with only one side of their brains, as scientists recently concluded.

Nick may be described as "the least politically correct guy in the universe," but truth be told, Meyers and co-writers Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yupsa are no more in touch. They give us busty secretaries who are airheads, fragile female executives and suicidal wallflowers – all of them in need of rescue.

Gibson, in an energetic turn, wins the audience over despite the outdated themes, formulaic scenario and Meyers's tendency to overindulge him. In the awkward, overlong first act, she allows her star to make a fool of himself as he lip-syncs Frank Sinatra while aping Fred Astaire's dance with a hatrack. And again when he gets drunk and tries out an array of women's products, all produced by potential advertisers. Apparently either he or Meyers thought this was adorable, because they go through the whole rigmarole twice.

It's unsettling, icky even, to see the notoriously homophobic Gibson in black stockings, red nail polish and an aquamarine Wonderbra. But it's for a good cause – the redemption of Nick. It is, after all, high time the last of the chauvinist pigs got in touch with his sensitive side.

Gibson and the overexposed Hunt don't exactly burn up the screen, not that it much matters. The charm isn't in the relationship, it's in Gibson's puckish appeal.

"What Women Want" (127 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content and language.


Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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