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What Women Want

What's the shelf life of an average star? Obviously, most actors and actresses, if they stick around long enough, have their ups and downs with the public. But familiarity truly breeds contempt, and nothing eats up stars to spit them out like television. Imagine if Julia Roberts had started out in TV. She would be over the hill now, instead of at the top of her game. Helen Hunt, on the other hand, is a victim of this bizarre calculus, in which the more the public likes a star the sooner they turn on him or her. Rendered a major media figure by the NBC-TV series Mad About You, Hunt probably reached her peak of audience patience when she won an Oscar for As Good as it Gets, and was at the height of her sex appeal to adolescents in Twister. But now, on the basis of anecdotal evidence anyway, Hunt's star is flaming out. Sure, she will continue to pop up on Leno, maybe even win an award or two. But the fire in the heart of the public is gone. And she will continue to appear in movies. Such a film is What Women Want. Despite Hunt's presene, What Women Want is really a Mel Gibson movie, a tale told from the male angle, and in the end, not really all that sympathetic towards women. When the film arrived in theaters in 2000, it was widely considered to be an effort to position Gibson (deemed too old to run around shooting people anymore) as a romantic comedy star. Hunt, with her quick smiles, her deadpan face, and her leonine manner, was kicked off to the side. The strategy seems to have worked: The $65 million movie grossed $182 million in the U.S. alone. Gibson plays Nick Marshall, an arrogant womanizing advertising exec who, thanks to a fluke accident, finds himself able to hear what women think. After some initial confusion, he decides to use this gift to his advantage, and his first victim is Darcy McGuire (Hunt), the woman who received a promotion he wanted. Unfortunately, the point of comedies is that they are suppose to be funny (but then, this comeuppance-of-a-swinger genre is a tough nut to crack, as Blake Edwards learned with Switch). Instead of any verbal wit in a film in which a lot of women talk, the filmmakers rely on Gibson's mumbling charm, and on gags such as dressing him up in women's clothes. At the very least, What Women Want actually has a lot of engaging women in the cast, ranging from Marisa Tomei to Lauren Holly, along with Delta Burke and Valerie Perrine (the joke is that these two have no thoughts to read), and Bette Midler and Martha Stewart. Paramount's DVD comes with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and audio in DD 5.1 or Dolby 2.0 Surround. Extras include two theatrical trailers, cast interviews, a conventional "making-of" featurette, and an audio commentary from the passionless and nearly silent director Nancy Meyers (a writer turned the director of The Parent Trap), who is joined by production designer John Hutman. Keep-case.
—D.K. Holm

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