Released in 2000, ‘What Women Want’ explores what, on the surface, would be an ideal situation for any hetero male: a semi-fortuitous accident which brings about an ability to hear the thoughts of every woman he comes into contact with.
Nick Marshall is a politically incorrect, male chauvinist, played by Mel Gibson, who’s ex-wife is getting married to someone new. Nick was raised by dancing girls in Las Vegas until he grew into a man’s man.
At first glance, it appears that Nick has everything. He’s a little bit too sure of himself, but it’s not without reason. He has a housekeeper who rouses him from his somewhat-sullied bed, a lady doorman who hails his cab for him, he plays a little psychological warfare with the stunning coffee shop girl and convinces her to go on a date with him, he impresses all the men around him.
Nick criticises a female worker for eating a bagel, he tells blow job jokes as he breezes through the office.
He has two airhead secretaries, and there’s Sarah Paulson. She’s always been great.
Girls who were born in the mid-eighties control revenues, according to Alan Alda. Something about Alan Alda looks like my childhood, so I’m compelled to listen to him. I’m from the early eighties. I’ve always been ahead of my time.
So, here comes the twist. It’s a woman’s world, but Nick is not built to get into the female psyche. The promotion he was sure he was getting, that he’s already planned a lunch in celebration of, is going to a woman from outside the company. His secretaries are ready with the champagne. It looks like Moët, so it’s the good stuff.
What a shame. And I mean that. I may not be especially fond of this character, but it’s always a pity to waste good alcohol.
The ex-wife is remarried, and Nick’s daughter who might be grumpy ordinarily has just heard her father get her age wrong – she’ll be staying with him for the next two weeks.
The new boss, Darcy McGuire, is played by Helen Hunt. I read somewhere, only recently, that she began acting at the age of nine, under the direction of her father. She’s incredible.
There’s a box-based handout – the advertising guys are to come up with ideas for products which include control top pantihose, pore cleansing strips, lipstick, a wonderbra, and an at-home pregnancy test. Nick goes home, starts a bottle of wine and puts on some Frank Sinatra. This is his man-time.
I am bound to believe this is how he spends his evenings alone, dancing around to Frank with an intricate hat-based dance routine and a mouthful of Merlot.
He tries to come up with ideas to sell the lipstick, plucked from the box at random. Every idea leads him to 1950s-style ideas of laundry and infidelity, or lesbianism as understood by straight men.
What happens next takes some following. He searches through his daughter’s possessions for female empowerment music. He finds Meredith Brooks, and good for him.
He tries on all the products. The hair volumiser, the pore strips, mascara, nail varnish – he stabs himself in the eye with the mascara wand, and gargles the wine until he’s ready to wax his legs. He puts a huge amount of wax across his leg.
A couple of years ago, we had one of our twenty-something lads wax his legs for charity in the Legion. His little sister filmed it, giggling the whole time. To be fair to the lad, he started out well. His face turned a little blotchy and red for the first leg, and his eyes sparkled a little. With the second leg, he needed a breather, a large drink and still wound up a little tearful.
At least it was all in a good cause.
I think I remember the daughter’s boyfriend from ‘Buffy’. His daughter is a confusion because she’s a teenager, they’re complicated creatures. The accident waiting to happen involves a full bathtub and a hair-dryer, which Nick inexplicably holds onto as he slides across the room on bath beads.
The next morning, waking up is something of a beast, but the products have worked well on his hair and skin.
The thoughts of his cleaning lady are as clear as her speaking voice. She has her back to him for much of their non-conversation, but with the female doorman and her hitherto unheard man-hungry tendencies, he begins to realise something has happened.
Well done, genius.
Women being something of a worldwide phenomenon, he can’t really get away from other people’s thoughts.
This is a kind of torture. Up to this point, Nick has been able to believe that all women love him, but now he knows. They don’t. They find him obnoxious. Every one of them says one thing, and thinks another. The thoughts are not positive.
The only people who don’t think he’s a schmuck are his secretaries. When they stop talking, there is only silence.
Obviously, Nick thinks he’s losing his mind. He spends a few minutes looking for a therapist or an exorcist. He explains what happened to his buddy, in case the coroner needs to know.
It begins to dawn on Nick that he can use this new talent to borrow ideas from the female advertising executives, and look less of an arse. He fails badly at this. At least, he can improve his love life by hearing exactly what his lover wants and actually listening.
Maybe it’s a hackneyed idea, but once he can actually hear what women want, he starts to listen. And falls in love with the woman he had thought of as a bitch-monster, and who, at the very least, took his job.
Now that he listens, at least we don’t wind up thinking she could do better.
Even though she could.