The fizzy screwball comedy What Women Want is about as deep as an episode of ”Bewitched,” yet, as directed by Nancy Meyers, it’s got a high sporting verbal zing. Mel Gibson plays Nick Marshall, a charming, self centered lady killer who suffers a freak accident and is suddenly cursed – or is it blessed? – with the ability to hear women’s thoughts.
He saunters down the street, or through the winding offices of the Chicago ad agency where he’s the resident hotshot, and each time he passes a member of the opposite sex, he registers her inner voice – her hidden desires and resentments, her diet woes, and everything else he’d never before had a clue about. When the job Nick has been coveting goes to Darcy Maguire (Helen Hunt), who has been chosen to lead his agency into the sizzling new era of female consumer power, he brainstorms with her and steals her ideas, and he’s just clever enough about it to convince her that he’s being a sexy gentleman as well.
A chick flick tells women that they can be postfeminist adventurers and still land a man in an old fashioned, fairy tale way. A gick flick does just the opposite: It reassures men that they can live in the postfeminist world, and even be domesticated, without giving up their mythical ”freedom” – their cherished ability to be randy charmers, to be men. Gibson, in a disarmingly nimble, fast break performance, makes Nick’s new hyperempathy look like the essence of virile panache.
He and Hunt achieve a genuine flirtatious chemistry, though I suspect a lot of women are going to look at Hunt’s character and think that she’s too nice and pliable. They had better get used to it. The new guy flicks, built to feed the vanity of men, are bound to be as reductive as all those Nora Ephron comedies that paved the way for them.