A lot has changed in our society in the nineteen years since What Women Want, a romantic comedy starring Mel Gibson as a chauvinist who learns not to be a pig after being afflicted with a curse that lets him hear women’s thoughts, was released in December 2000 to stunning box office success. That film has been picked apart over the years for its depiction of both women and men, but here we are, in 2019, with a remake, gender-flipping the original story and updating the material (slightly).
Successful sports agent Ali Davis (Taraji P. Henson) is the toughest worker at SVM, but her male colleagues keep standing in between her and the coveted title of “partner”. Frustrated beyond belief, Ali heads to a bridal shower for her best friend , where a psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu) gives her a Haitian tea. After getting a concussion at the club, Ali wakes up with an extraordinary gift: the ability to hear men’s thoughts. She panics at first, but realizes that this gives her an advantage against the men who don’t want her to succeed. With her beleaguered gay assistant Brandon (Josh Brener) in tow, she climbs her way up the corporate ladder, while romance enters her personal life in the form of single dad and bartender Will (Aldis Hodge).
As a film, the biggest thing in What Men Want‘s favor is that the script is tighter than the original, with a clearer and more satisfying ending for all plotlines involved, unlike the first film, which dropped major subplots and refused to give the audience closure for them. There’s also a small (yet very unsubtle) acknowledgment of how bizarre this concept is in the post #MeToo era, mainly involving the hardass CEO of SVM, Nick (played by former Seattle Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth).
Subtlety isn’t a strongpoint. In fact, most of the jokes are raunchy, including a giant inflatable penis and a racist video of black women stripping made by the white men of SVM. The humor is extreme, and yet it works in context of the film. It can be grating at times, but when the laughs land, they hit hard. This can be mainly credited to the cast, who give it all they’ve got. Henson works the physical comedy, Badu is hilarious as an exaggerated version of her public persona, and Tracy Morgan is in fine comedic form as Joe “Dolla” Barry, the overbearing father/personal trainer/manager of a rising young NBA star.
Yet the film is ultimately held back by the fact that it is extreme and over-the-top, eventually the energy begins to run out, and while the third act is a satisfying finale, it lacks the same bounce and insanity of the first two acts. Director Adam Shankman (Hairspray, A Walk to Remember) seems to stop caring about the film when that happens, and it’s unfortunate. Ultimately, the film feels dated and despite some interesting concepts and thoughts about what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated workplace, it fails to truly delivers on that topic. Admittedly, however, it is funny, and if you’re just looking for a few good laughs, What Men Want will give you what you want.
What Men Want will open nationwide on February 8th.