In 2000, Nancy Meyers’ fantasy, What Women Want, imagined a swaggering Mel Gibson could suddenly hear the thoughts of the opposite sex, thereby revealing a workplace and larger world that is no place for a lady.
There’s something irresistible about the idea of a gender and race swapped variation, especially because, well, Mel Gibson.
As What Men Want opens, Ali (Taraji P Henson), a go-getting career gal, is passed up for a long-overdue promotion in favour of one of the lads. So what if she reps for Olympic gold medallists, it’s not as if she has signed a player from the major leagues. Stung, she sets out to nab Jamal Barry (Shane Paul McGhie), the first pick in the NBA draft.
There’s a snag: Jamal’s father is a control freak played by a motor-mouthed Tracy Morgan. And another snag: on a hen’s night out with her friends, a weed-dealing psychic named Sister (Erykah Badu, having a ball) gives Ali some spiked concoction, which leads to a head injury, which leads to the ability to hear men’s thoughts.
Henson falls over, swishes into rooms, dresses fabulously, provides carefully calibrated reaction shots, and is generally game. Throughout a script co-written by Tina Gordon, there are tantalising hints of a better, more socially biting comedy: Ali’s boss whines that he can’t fire her because he might get “crucified by these MeToo-ers” and there is more than one reference to “locker-room talk”.
Instead, we get a loosey-goosey series of subplots: Ali has a touching relationship with her dad (Richard Roundtree), she shares a romantic subplot involving a dashing single-dad bartender (Aldis Hodge), she must appease her female friend squad, and come to recognise the worth of her trusty gay assistant (Josh Brener).
Yes, there’s a gay assistant.
Did we also mention that she also acquires a fake family? Or the sports cameos by basketballers Shaq and Karl-Anthony Towns?
An excellent cast elevates a wacky, crowded script with too few, actual jokes and a disappointingly conventional denouement.
Where’s the movie with the career-minded heroine who overhears the term “ball-breaker” and decides to break more balls? It’ll do well enough for fans of busy fantasy rom-coms with a supernatural twist.