Dec 19, 2000
What Women Want
What Women Want is a perfect example of what is good and what is bad about a Hollywood high concept comedy. Like Tootsie and Groundhog Day, this film takes a twist premise and shows a self-centered, chauvinistic man how to care about a woman and live well. The technique extends back through Pygmalian (both Shaw and ancient Greece) and Dicken's A Christmas Carol. Of course Scrooge doesn't get love in A Christmas Carol, but it's the same thing. Learning a life lesson by some cosmic means. This is and has always been a very popular form.
The trick comes in extending this twist premise for a full two hours. Most films that use the twist last a few scenes. To do it well, you have to work with character oppositions and theme.
This film takes a surprisingly long amount of time to set up the switch of the man who finds he can hear women's thoughts, but that may be because the writer realized that that is the most fun part of the switch for the audience. Once the hero has begun to use his power, it's so unfair that the game is over very soon. So the best part comes in seeing a man discover he suddenly has this power. No doubt the initial thrill would be incredible.
While that is a gleeful moment for the audience, it isn't much of a theme. And this film doesn't have a diverse enough set of opposing characters, the way Tootsie does, to expand the theme and give it some texture.
There are some fun scenes in this film as the hero takes advantage of his power. But there is no conflict in it.
The problem with the limited theme and the weak opposition really becomes apparent when this film tries to find an ending for the twist. Once the hero learns to listen to women's thoughts and changes his actions to please them - which he does almost immediately - he becomes the ideal man.
But this film seems to go on forever as it tries to find a way to make the hero pay for listening in on women's thoughts. Every time I thought they were finally going to end the movie he would be sent off on another mission of redemption.
Every fantasy needs a way to return to the mundane world, with the hero having learned his lesson. But it should happen quickly and without false moralizing.