Nancy Meyers’ 2000 Mel Gibson comedy What Women Want is hardly the kind of thing that needs to be rebooted. But I’ve always thought that if something must be remade, it should be something flawed that is made better in the second go around, which makes this somewhat enjoyable film perfect for a gender-swapped remake. This also comes off a record terrible year for Taraji P. Henson, who I think is one of the most talented actresses in Hollywood, but one who desperately needs a new agent. How does What Men Want benefit her skillset?
Ali (Henson) is a high-powered sports agent working in a testosterone-fueled environment where she’s continually undermined and overlooked. On a night out with her three friends, she drinks some weird tea given to her by a psychic (Erykah Badu) and hits her head and wakes up with a newfound ability to hear the inner thoughts of the men around her. She decides to use this to her advantage and manipulate those around her in her quest to sign the big client.
There’s something to be said for low expectations. I expected this film to be absolutely horrible, and I was surprised to find it’s a marginally fun time at the movies. Henson reminds the audience what a gifted comedienne she is, but Erykah Badu steals the show and shocks with truly stellar comic timing. Josh Brener is also quite funny as Ali’s nerdy gay assistant, and New Girl’s Max Greenfield is quite good as a coworker who becomes an unlikely ally. The movie is a crass waste of Wendy McLendon-Covey and Tracy Morgan, however. Covey is the only one of Ali’s three friends with a trace of personality, and she hangs onto that by her teeth. Morgan looks like he doesn’t even want to be here.
Adam Shankman, who I remember fondly as a director because he made 2007’s Hairspray remake, reminds the viewer that his films are often scattershot and middling. Allowing actors to improvise can have mixed results and this film is strong evidence of that. Many jokes go on for too long, and not all of them land. There are a few recurring gags that weren’t even funny the first time. The script by Tina Gordon, Alex Gregory, and Peter Huyck leaves a lot of room for riffing, and as a result, the movie is about twenty minutes too long. As the film comes to a close, Ali must repair the bridges she’s burned over the course of the film, and it becomes a thing where I was checking boxes off in my head, and that’s never a good thing.
However, the film wants to say something about what it’s like to be a woman of color in the workplace. I wouldn’t say it brings anything new to a genuinely important conversation that is taking place so prominently in modern-day America. However, I do appreciate that this film at least wants to say something. There are plenty of mindless comedies that don’t even aspire to that. Perhaps it doesn’t really have to say anything, and the fact that it wants to is enough for this kind of project.
I wouldn’t say this is a strong improvement over the Nancy Meyers film. Meyers is a director whose work I’d choose to watch over Shankman’s, but I’d definitely rather watch Taraji in a comedy than Mel Gibson. In the end, I would say that What Men Want is medium-fun, but does not need to be seen in the theater, and could easily be streamed sometime later. It’s not the role that Taraji P. Henson deserves, but it’s certainly an improvement over Proud Mary and Acrimony.