What Women Want (2000)
July 9, 2023 9:54 PM - Subscribe

A cocky, chauvinistic advertising executive magically acquires the ability to hear what women are thinking.

Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) gets a whole new outlook on life when a fluke accident gives him the ability to read women's minds. At first, this "gift" provides Nick with way too much information, but he begins to realize that he can use it to good effect, especially when it comes to outwitting his new boss, Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt).

Heather Schwedel: Its gender politics are not great, but they’re not as bad as you might expect. Let’s state right off the bat that the premise is condescending: Isn’t 2000 a little late to make a movie about how women are an important consumer demographic? That said, this is a movie about a horrible, toxic man learning how horrible and toxic he is, and it’s somewhat admirably interested in breaking down a few of the more harmful aspects of traditional masculinity. Most of the overt displays of sexism in the movie are coded as bad: The audience understands that Gibson’s character, Nick Marshall, is an asshole when he warns a female colleague she might not want to take a bite of that breakfast pastry, or describes a professional acquaintance as a “bitch on wheels.” Ditto for the character’s absentee dad act and treatment of his romantic interests.

That’s not to say things don’t get a little muddled sometimes: Marisa Tomei’s character asks Gibson’s to stop asking her out, but when he starts reading minds, it turns out her “no” isn’t so firm after all. If this was a mixed signal at the time, post-#MeToo, it implies that no can sometimes mean yes, and it’s icky to watch on screen. Of course, the whole idea of using mind-reading to get a woman into bed is also a pretty clear violation of consent. Pretending to be gay to get out of having to see said woman again is also, obviously, not an ideal way to end a relationship. What was played for laughs at the time—Mel Gibson, gay? P’shaw!—now just seems cruel and offensive.

Kim Jones: What Women Want for the most part glides by on this kind of light-hearted, innocuous appeal -- Nick learns yoga, gets manicures, and dishes with the girls at coffee break time -- but then it all falls apart. Why? Because the filmmakers insisted upon taking a fun story and turning it into a redemption tale. Somebody's got to save Nick from himself. Somebody's got to be his knight in shining armor. (And, in one of the more egregious casting mishaps of late, the marvelous, magnetic Marisa Tomei -- as a slightly schizo Starbucks employee cum actress -- should have been that knight-in-mocchachino-splattered-armor.) So the last half-hour is devoted to a dull, drawn-out morality play where Nick learns his lesson and the audience gets no laughs. It's like 90 minutes of teasing foreplay, and then, just when it's about to get really good, your partner rolls over and goes to sleep. What women want? How about a little follow-through?

Geoff Bakewell
: But our foreboding goes deeper. In Ovid, the story of Tiresias is embedded within a broader nexus of Theban myths, one of whose main characters, the prince Pentheus, is similar to Nick in his simultaneous antipathy and attraction to women. In the fullest surviving version of the Pentheus story, Euripides’ tragedy Bacchae, the prince conducts an eerily similar toilette, eschewing his armor to primp and preen in women’s clothes (lines 810-845) before he is dismembered by his female relatives.

Meyers highlights the significance of Nick’s change in other ways too. One of these is the music playing in the background. At the start of the evening, Nick danced to the strains of Sinatra, the ultimate man’s man. But to explore his feminine side, he replaces Ol’ Blue Eyes with a CD rifled from his daughter’s backpack, cranking Meredith Brooks’ “Bitch.” And he sings along with the lyrics to drive home the point: “I’m a little bit of everything all rolled into one. I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother.” Nick’s assumption of this variegated female identity is marked by appropriate elements of ritual: immersion, symbolic death, rebirth, and amendment of life.

posted by Carillon (2 comments total)
I try not to quote too much from the articles lets the posts balloon, but I thought the Ovid piece a bunch of fun and worth digging into.
posted by Carillon at 9:56 PM on July 9, 2023 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the important thing to remember about Pentheus is that the gods caused him to be torn to pieces by his enraged mother and aunts.

Someone should cast Mel Gibson in that - it's one of the few roles I'd consider watching him in.
posted by Nerd of the North at 3:35 PM on July 10, 2023 [5 favorites]

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