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[whitespace] 'What Women Want'
Executive Privilege: Chauvinist Mel Gibson knows exactly what his ad exec boss, Helen Hunt, has on her mind.

Mind Games

'What Women Want' doesn't have a clue what women want

By Richard von Busack

THE FIRST HALF HOUR is agreeable, sweet fluff of the school of late-1950s Rock Hudson, leading to a pleasant evening with our Chicago ad exec hero Nick Marshall. Marshall (Mel Gibson) is revealed as a man at ease with himself--mostly because he doesn't take women's opinions seriously. At home in his 40th-story apartment, on top of the world, he finishes a bottle of wine and has a solitary twirl to Sinatra's version of "I Won't Dance." Every movie-goer's instinct correctly tells you this is too good to last.

Soon, because of an electrical accident, Nick gains the telepathic powers to read women's thoughts. Although he's distressed at first, he's advised by a psychiatrist (Bette Midler, in a cameo) to use the power for his own good. So Nick matches wits with a supposed bitch of a rival ad executive who has just been promoted over him: Darcy Maguire, played by Helen Hunt.

You've seen Gibson putting on nail polish and pantyhose in the trailers, but this is just a gag. The number of times Nick hears the thought "nice ass" shows this so-called woman's movie to be just one of the guys. The product placement comes thick and fast, particularly a Nike commercial dreamed up by Nick (who plagiarized it from Darcy's thoughts). The commercial, for which Nike must have paid millions, tells us that running on the road gives women freedom from the demands of men. (To which you want to reply, "Great, run away from your problems.")

Director Nancy Meyers' film shows the signs of being designed by committee, particularly in a hopeless ending that frays into three different directions, leaving our hero humbled and uninteresting, shining with that castrated aura of the male hero of an old-time sitcom. Hunt isn't noteworthy here. Her tight smile and air of disappointment is beginning to be as predictable as the winter rains. She's about as bitchy as a cup of pudding, and rolls over quick for her rival.

What Women Want begins on a reactionary note, too. Nick's backstory is that he was raised by his mom, a Las Vegas showgirl, as the pet of the chorus line. With no male figure around, he grew up spoiled and a disrespecter of womenhood--how feminist is that tale? What Women Want answers the title's question with the answer, "Women want to please men on their own terms," instead of "Women want to be able to hear themselves think." It adds: "Women want every secret thought known." I'd suggest what women really want is secrets, to be like men in the male-privileged way we men often keep our own counsel. I remember that scene in Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited when a girl at a party tells a man, "I can see right through you." He says to himself, "Can you see through me? Can you see through the dark places my eyes cannot penetrate?" It may be wrong to expect basically a year 2000 version of a Doris Day/Hudson movie to get in deeper, but What Women Want loads up the Oprah-escent message of male understanding, instead of leavening it with the romance and comedy. This film won't dance--don't ask it.

What Women Want (PG-13) directed by Nancy Meyers, written by Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa, photographed by Dean Cundey and starring Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt, plays at selected theaters valleywide.

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From the December 21-27, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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