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WHAT WOMEN WANT

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Mel Gibson, Helen Hunt, Marisa Tomei, Mark Feuerstein, Lauren Holly, Alan Alda
Director:  Nancy Meyers
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  126 Minutes
Release Date:  May 8, 2001

Film ***

If life in the last century has proved any evolution in human thought, the most significant example might be that the great eternal question has changed from “why are we here?” to “what do women want?”.

Being a guy, I can say that thought has crossed my mind more than one time (I have two sisters), and frankly, what male hasn’t fantasized about reading women’s minds and really learning what makes them tick…or more importantly, different from us?

What Women Want is a romantic comedy with just a dash of fantasy that makes that notion a reality.  It stars Mel Gibson at his most impishly charming as “man’s man” Nick, who makes crude jokes, boasts about his bedroom conquests, and has made a successful advertising career out of celebrating the macho idealism inherent in promoting cars and beers.  In short, he’s clueless when it comes to really dealing with women.  His childhood background, given early on, is a riot, and will probably have many a male audience member daydreaming for weeks to come.

A freak accident leads to the awaking of a strange ability:  Nick finds that he’s able to hear women’s thoughts.  Suddenly, the bewildered guy is faced with knowing what the women in his life and at his work really think of him.  More importantly, he finds it might give him the edge he’s looking for:  a bright new executive, Darcy (Hunt) has just been hired for the job Nick has had his eye on.  She has talent and ideas, but maybe, if he can pick her brain enough, he can make both of those work for him.

That’s the premise that drives the story, but complications ensue…many of them funny, some of them surprisingly touching.  A hysterical moment develops when he finally gets a young waitress (Tomei) in bed, and has to endure the humiliation of her thoughts while he tries to perform!  Other sweeter moments occur when Nick realizes he’s falling in love in Darcy, or when he finds he has the power to save a depressed, overlooked office worker from a terrible mistake.

The point is, Nick learns from his journey into women’s psyche, and while the film doesn’t really come up with the answers we guys have been looking for, it does nicely suggest that people who just take the time to really listen to one another have made a good first step.  This is the lesson that stays with Nick even when the magic disappears.

Most movies require a willingness to buy into certain plot points to enjoy them, but I have to say, I don’t think any have brought me so close to the edge of disbelief without pushing me over the side as this one.   I can accept, for example, a Delorean turned into a time machine, but an electrical mishap that allows a man to hear women’s thoughts…and ONLY women, right down to little French poodles that thankfully think in English?  That’s a pseudo-science that would even spin the heads of most Star Trek fans.

Yet the picture succeeds because it parlays this crazy notion into a pleasing story with winning characters, and because it does tap into that most primitive of male fantasies.  As such, I believe this is a rare romantic comedy that offers appeal to both men and women.  What Women Want may not answer that question, but at least for the duration of the movie, there is common ground.

Video ****

This is a superb anamorphic transfer from Paramount; one that goes above and beyond the call of duty for a simple romantic comedy!  The image sharpness and detail is quite remarkable from beginning to end, including many wide-angled shots filled with information.  The colors are natural looking, well contained, and vibrant all the way.  I especially liked the warm, softer tones of some of the interiors like Nick’s office, which translated well onto DVD with a nice ambient feel.  The art design overall is exception, with beautifully decorated sets that really bring out the best digital video is capable of.  I noticed a touch of grain in one pullback shot that went by so quickly, I can’t really consider it even a nominal flaw.  All in all, this is an excellent and reference quality effort.

Audio ***1/2

The 5.1 audio track is equally impressive, and again, surprisingly so.  I didn’t expect much demand on my system from this film, but I was pleasantly taken in with the movie’s lively and dynamic punch, including a bevy of great songs by Frank Sinatra.  The rear stage comes into play during some of the more active “thought” scenes for a nice effect, and add some spatial feeling to the scenes involving some noisy weather, which also make use of the .1 channel.  A very good listen!

Features ***

Included on this disc is a commentary track with director Nancy Meyers and production designer Jon Hutman…a decent listen, but not one of the more livelier commentaries.  There are also two trailers and two short featurettes, one on the making of the movie and one with cast and crew interviews, plus some animated menus with sound.

Summary:

What Women Want is a film that finds the exact target it aims for.  It’s not overly smart or insightful, but it is warm, charming, and laugh inducing.   With this quality offering from Paramount, consider this DVD a more than worthwhile spin…that’s my thought.