When his undeniable charisma was enough to bury his true misogynistic mentality, Mel Gibson anchored the 2000 comedy What Women Want to a near $400m worldwide haul. The film itself wasn’t much to write home about but audiences ate it up, and I suspect this new generation, gender-flipped remake will be met with much the same reaction. The Taraji P. Henson-starrer isn’t likely to earn a global figure in the same ballpark, but as a critic-proof, audience-friendly, semi-romantic, urban-skewed comedy, you could do a lot worse.
Following relatively the same beats as Nancy Meyers’ Y2K comedy, What Men Want – helmed by Adam Shankman (The Wedding Planner, Hairspray) – focuses on high-powered sports agent Ali Davis (Henson). Some could accuse of her being a man-hater, but in a office environment dominated by men, she’s merely trying to play by the rules, and so has developed too thick a skin which, unfortunately, results in a temperament not far removed from the dude-bros she works with; she’s aloof with her closest friends, she constantly berates her loyal assistant (an endearing Josh Brener), and she’s all too selfish in bed, often leaving her partners hanging after she’s climaxed and nodded off to sleep.
Passed over for another promotion and ready to drown her sorrows in multiple illegal substances, a night out with her closest girlfriends (Tamala Jones, Phoebe Robinson and Wendi McLendon-Covey), via a questionable tea drinking session with a psychic (Eryka Badu, evidently enjoying herself through her extra performance), results in Ali cutting loose a little too strongly. A fowl dance move and a literal trip on the dance floor later and she awakes with the ability to hear men’s inner thoughts. Cue hopeful hilarity.
Whilst the Tina Gordon-Alex Gregory-Peter Huyuck penned script leaves a lot to be desired in terms of how they paint men (most males come off as perverted in this particular instance), the first few moments of Ali honing her new-found ability aim for the lowest form of comedy. Thankfully however, thanks in large part to the firecracker-assurance of Henson’s comedic strengths, the film settles (albeit predictably) as to how she’ll take advantage of hearing in on her co-workers mindsets.
The biggest plus for Ali is that she has the upper hand when trying to read young NBA hopeful Jamar Barry (Shane Paul McGhie), who’s currently in the midst of a contract war amongst the top agents. As she discovers, Jamar is a pretty sensible young man, with it being his over-bearing father (Tracy Morgan) that’s really calling the shots as to who deserves the lucrative contract. Whilst Ali is indeed assisted in playing the card correctly with Jamal and his dad, it doesn’t curb her overall selfishness as we still see her subjecting her assistant to demeaning tasks and potentially squandering any romantic inclinations between herself and well-meaning bartender Will (an incredibly charming Aldis Hodge) as she views him and his young son (Auston Jon Moore) more as props to appear more family-oriented rather than as people that could genuinely better her.
We’re unsurprised as to where the film travels and, much like Gibson in What Women Want, Henson’s Ali learns to better herself and value those around her in the most breakneck of speeds. A film of this ilk doesn’t require too much thought, nor should the audience attending be after anything deep and meaningful, but What Men Want could’ve explored its topical premise beyond the surface of men acting like boys. That’s not to say that there aren’t men out there that have one-tracked minds who think more with the appendage between their legs rather than their head or *gasp* their heart, but the film seems to honour that stereotype over being a little more truthful; even when the film allows Ali to play matchmaker between her assistant and a fellow male co-worker, it’s bathed in thoughts of the physical rather than emotional.
That being said, What Men Want is evidently aimed to please its audience, and in that regard it’s a serviceable success. Henson is in fine form throughout, her vanity never getting the best of her, and it helps that she’s surrounded by a suitable cast (McLendon-Covey as her Jesus-preaching girlfriend is a real treat) and the chemistry between herself and Hodge far more natural than what Gibson shared with Helen Hunt in the original.
Though there’s something ironic here in these times of #MeToo and Time’s Up with a film where women act in a manner no better than men (in a story co-written by a woman), What Men Want nonetheless works with its tried plot device, resulting in the type of superficially pleasing comedy that audiences will lap up along with their snacks before it fades away with a more substantial meal.