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Dreams eroding edges
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date 2001-001-05:20:41
Movies The kids are off sleeping over at a friend's place so Jan and I went to see What Women Want. If you haven't seen it and intend to, don't read this because I'm going to talk about it in detail, although it isn't exactly unpredictable.

First, to declare my biases: Hellen Hunt can act. She's also very beautiful.

The premise of the film is simple: man's man Nick Marshal (Mel Gibson) is in line for promotion to Creative Director of a major Chicago ad agency. His boss, played by Alan Alda, recognizes the growing purchasing power of womean and realizes the firm is slipping in market share becaue of their inability to attract accounts that cater to it. So instead of promoting Nick, he hires Darcy Macguire (Hellen Hunt) who has just left a rival agency and comes with a reputation of being a "man killing Darth Vader". Nick hates this and sets out to do whatever it takes to dislodge her. At her first meeting Darcy gives everyone a box full of products that are trying to target the women's market and suggests an early meeting the next day to discuss people's ideas for them. Nick, a true professional, actually tries all the products, panty-hose and all, and in doing so falls into the bathtub and electocutes himself. Rather than dying, he wakes up with the power to hear what women are thinking.

The rest of the film is Nick learning how the other half lives. It's pretty funny, and he becomes a more sensitive, honest, decent human being because of it. But it's really Hunt's movie--her expressiveness and subtlety make Gibson look like the capable journeyman actor he is, in constrast to her brilliance.

The script does have things to say about how men--at least men like Nick--behave, and it does say something about what some women--enlightened ones like Darcy--want. But the miracle of mind-reading is a lame excuse for the plot. It could have been a much better film. I will no don my critics robes, as someone who has never written a movie script (I won a minor award for a play once, long ago, though) and tell you how it should have been done.

Nick is a professional. This is one really admirable aspect of his character. He says to himself before trying on the panty-hose and waxing his legs (not that order), "I'm a professional, I can do this." And he could. If I'd been writing the script, he would have set himself the task of understanding what women were thinking. Instead of a voice-over of women's thoughts, we'd be treated to both what the women were thinking and what Nick imagines they're thinking. This offers at least as many possibilities for cerebral comedy as the mind-reading bit.

We would see Nick's new approach start to affect his behavior--instead of seeing women as objects to be manipulated for his own immediate gratification, he starts to see them as thinking beings, especially Darcy, who his more than his intellectual, emotional and spiritual equal. Essentially the same transformation would take place in him, but without any mind-reading. As it is, the film gives guys everywhere the excuse of, "See, the only way a guy could understand what babes is thinkin' is if he could read their minds."

The film is good as it is--the subplots in particular are handled nicely. But there were a few things that weren't exploited nearly as well as they could have been. In particular, the way lovers do sometimes seem to read each other's thoughts wasn't mentioned at all. Still, some of the scenes between Darcy and Nick were close enough to conversations Caro and I have had that I got a real sense of the depth of Nick's transformation and Hunt's ability to project a women who speaks and acts just how she thinks and feels.

What do women want? A friend once commented that men don't have any clue what men want, either, but we just don't care in that case. I certainly don't get the impression that homosexual couples have any easier time understanding each other's needs than heterosexual ones. I know for a fact that not all women want men to be more sensible, more honest or more sensitive. But many do, and it would be a good thing if that became the general sense of what women wanted, if more women wanted that, because men are perfectly capable of being more sensible, more decent, kinder, more thoughtful. We don't because we are rarely expected to be, and the sooner women start behaving more like Lysistrata and less like the monsters of the Order of the White Feather or whatever it was called, the sooner the world will be a beter place.

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