If men are from Mars, and women are from Venus, What Women Want is from pure desperation.
While director Nancy Meyers' dreadful movie may become a monstrous, monster hit, it is stupid, patronizing trash of a very low order, even considering her prior work on cinematic offal like The Parent Trap and Baby Boom.
John Hutman's production design swallows the tale, as he constructs a suffocating version of Chicago as hellishly overscaled as anything in director Chris Columbus' most knick-knacky nightmares. Cinematographer Dean Cundey and his honeyed filters should get a nudge there, too. It's all a rich rube's idea of sophistication. Like Columbus, Meyers thinks she's making a socially aware, comedically adept masterpiece, but can only eke out lowbrow ho-hum.
The movie starts with a leaden voice-over explaining how Gibson's character, Nick, got to the little boy he is today. Essentially, explains Meyers with reductionist psychology and keen sexism, Mom was a sugar-daddy-loving slut showgirl, and he's turned out to be a chauvinist advertising copywriter, a lame jerk who supposedly beds many, many women. Nick lacks a single on-screen line that convinces that he could get a woman to sit in the same room with him, let alone sleep with him. Recalling another gussied-up Chicago-set comedy of little plausibility, he's like Ferris Bueller in middle-age, only without John Hughes' delicate wit to help him along. (We never saw Ferris pulling his avowed scams, but heard them in voice-over instead.)
The early exposition that will allow the unfolding of the ridiculous plot device -- Gibson electrocutes himself with a hair dryer in a bathtub after dressing up like a road company Eddie Izzard to learn how to better sell products to women, and then can hear selected thoughts by women he walks near -- goes on for painful minutes. When Nick's tumbling around his fabulous bathroom, you can only hope he pulls a Bill Holden and we get to watch him exsanguinate for a couple of reels. Didn't anyone learn from Groundhog Day? If you have an implausible premise, jump over it like a pile of slush, don't waste shoe leather explaining gassy bull.
Witnessing any movie that Meyers is involved in is like watching someone try to force a pork loin through a pastry horn. It may be pretty, but it isn't funny. This criminal contraption, equal parts bunkum and hooey, is a juvenile depiction of Don Juanism. Even compulsive womanizers like women -- honest they do. The Nick character isn't a charmer, he's a delusional, seriously alcoholic idiot who wouldn't have made it anywhere in his field, let alone with smart women. (Then again, the supposedly smart women in this movie are morons.) I'm not expecting a documentary or anything subversive from a big glossy Christmas romantic comedy, but the posturing, speechifying and lame attempts at humor are seldom grounded in the slightest verisimilitude. Where Meyers thinks she has cobbled several screenwriters' work into Hepburn and Tracy, it's more like Pebbles and Bam-Bam.
Nick also speaks reams of dialogue aloud to himself for minutes on end, which I've always feared as a sign of encroaching madness. Meyers just thinks she's clever, but not as clever as when there are scenes that would require incisive writing, which, as you might guess, are conveyed through blowzy montages. And what is Nick's great contribution to the world once he gets this gift? He's no spy in the house of love: He just wants to be a sneak and figure out how to better sell overpriced crap to women. It would be like someone hiring a psychologist to exploit Elisabeth Kubler-Ross's stages of death and dying as a device to finagle the vulnerable into buying more life insurance.
The actors go through their paces and per diems. Gibson is fine, in a thankless role, looking tired and frantic. Helen Hunt acts once or twice. The glorious and oft-wasted Marisa Tomei, as a sultry coffee barista, acquits herself nicely until being called upon to pull a ditz-fit and lose her stuff yet again (and by a female director, no less).
What to like? I approve of Gibson smoking his Winstons throughout, with no one telling him to stop, and there is an actress, Judy Greer, who plays a gorgeous mouse, someone whose suicidal ideation is overheard by Nick, but not used until the hilariously stupid second-of-several endings of the movie. Greer manages to bring dignity, comic timing and untraditional beauty to a nothing role. It would have been nice to follow her character out the door, onto the street and into another story -- one drawn, perhaps, from real life, true insight and a kind of humor that actually produces laughter.