Monday, February 4, 2008

WHAT WOMEN WANT (Paramount 2000) Paramount Home Video

According to Nancy Meyer’s What Women Want (2000) is anything but a man who acts and thinks for himself. The screenplay from Josh Goldsmith and Cathy Yuspa delivers a ‘one/two’ feminist punch to the obvious and natural differences that separate male from female.

Wrapped up in Dean Cundey's ultra-slick high gloss cinematography this is a rather mindless fairytale with the proverbial happy ending to boot. The film is practically over before it begins – its one amusement centered on how well one sexist pig thinks he can take mental notes on what women desire the most from a mate.

The story opens on young Nick Marshall (Logan Lerman) – the son of a Vegas showgirl. Throughout his youth, Nick is surrounded by flashy, half-naked women that he quickly learns to objectify. Fast forward to the present: Nick (Mel Gibson) is an ad executive creating glossy sexist campaigns for beer companies. Unfortunately, Nick’s sort of ‘T’ and ‘A’ approach to marketing is on the way out – particularly after his boss, Dan Wanamaker (Alan Alda) hires hot shot PR professional Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt) to helm all future product placement.

Darcy’s first inclination is to get her executives interested in some of the products they are attempting to market. Henceforth, she puts together a package for each exec’ to take home and test market on themselves. Nick’s consists of a potpourri of women’s care products; exfoliating creams and pantyhose.

Meanwhile, Nick’s daughter Alexandra (Ashley Johnson) has grown emotionally detached from her father. She sees him as just a bank account capable of providing her with disposal income for her teenage whims. Determined that he should become more in tune with his daughter’s emotional needs – as well as his own ‘feminine side’ – Nick embraces the products Darcy’s asked him to test market. Unfortunately, he trips and falls into a bathtub of water with a live hair dryer.

Awakening hours later on the floor, Nick realizes he’s been given an incredible gift – the power to read virtually any woman's mind. Nick’s psychotherapist, J.M Perkins (Bette Midler) advises caution and prudence. Instead, Nick jumps headstrong into a sexual relationship with coffee house waitress, Lola (Marisa Tomei) before setting his sights on conquering Darcy’s sexual hang-ups. What he discovers is far more enriching that he supposed or expected.

Again, the primary objective of the screenplay is how best to feminize its male protagonist. Nick’s male behavior is generalized as bad or wrong while Darcy is represented as the very essence of perfection; her cool exterior and neurotic apprehensions quietly discounted as necessary accoutrements to make it in a ‘man’s world.’

Eventually Nick and Darcy do get together. But the compromises made along the way are all on his end. The Goldsmith/Yuspa screenplay seems to be inferring that in every man there is major room for improvement, while every woman need simply work on the various ways of improving her man to suit her own needs. That's a very shallow perspective indeed. No personal improvement on the part of any woman required!

In fact, the women in What Women Want are represented as perfect creatures. Their flaws are minor compared to those of the men they desire. Their interests are primary, cerebral and functional. Men are there to serve those needs and hopefully not get in the way too much. By comparison, men's needs are child-like, idiotic and superficial. Worse, the screenplay seems to suggest that men - in general - aren't really good for much beyond their cheque books and a command performance in the sack. If this is really 'what women want' then it is a rather sad statement on femininity in general and on society as a whole.

Interestingly, when Nick first realizes he can read women’s minds one of the first women he was to have come in contact with was Muslim. This clip was excised from the finished print, though ironically a snippet of this encounter made it into the film’s original theatrical trailer.

What Women Want isn’t so much about what all women would like from their male counterparts but rather a whimsical bit of daydreaming about the level of control some women wish they could exert over the men in their lives.

Paramount Home Entertainment’s DVD is impressive. The anamorphic picture exhibits a vibrant color palette complete with solid contrast levels and a fair amount of fine detail. Occasionally, the image becomes softly focused. Film grain is present but not distracting. The audio is 5.1 Dolby Digital and adequate for this dialogue-driven comedy. Extras include a very brief featurette and the film’s original theatrical trailer.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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